Neither of my grandfathers knew Tadmarton or probably ever visited Oxfordshire coming from working class stock that had left their farming backgrounds in Kent to settle on the outskirts of Kent and Surrey that are now part of London. However they are a part of me as this village now is, and as it is my website, here is where I shall remember their participation in the First World War.

My maternal grandfather I knew well, and he was one of those rare men who liked to talk about his experiences. Over Sunday lunch he would re-enact the engagements he had been in, using the various components of the meal, these peas are the German lines and this potato is the ridge where we set up our machine gun and regale us with the his exploits with his oppo "Chalky" White, much to my mother's annoyance. Whilst quite interested in his stories, I would have rather he had been a pilot of a Sopwith Camel, models of which hung from my bedroom ceiling , and I was probably more interested in "The Navy Lark" on the radio and filching roast potatoes, however his stories did stick in my mind, and now I wish I had listened closer. Fortunately his record survived the Blitz and I have been able to piece together his war record and set it down here on the 100th Anniversary of the conflict that changed everything and whose ripples still affect our world today.

John Charles Francis Garland was born on the 12th September 1889 to parents John and Agnes Garland in Peckham, the eldest of eight children. In 1911 he was working as an export packer and living with his family at of 70 Kirkwood Road, Peckham.  In 1914 he married Emmeline Edith Ford at All Saints Church in Camberwell and they had a son Francis Charles John Garland on 26th September 1914. They were living at 231, Crystal Palace Road, East Dulwich when he attested for wartime service on the 8th December 1915. 

He was assigned to 3/19th County of London Territorial Battalion, being mobilized on the 5th August 1916. After basic training, during which he was fined two days pay for overstaying a pass from camp until 2330, he was transferred to the 5th Battalion, The Machine Gun Corps to train for one of the most difficult and dangerous roles in the Army, learning to operate the Vickers .303 Mk 1 water-cooled machine gun, capable of firing 450-550 rounds a minute. He was appointed Lance-Corporal on 26th July 1917 and full Corporal on 17th August 1917. On the 20th August he embarked at Folkestone for Boulogne. After a stay at base camp in Camiers, the base depot of the MGC, he joined 21st Company of the Machine Gun Corps in the field. 

The MGC saw action in all the main theatres of war. In its short history the MGC gained an enviable record for heroism as a front line fighting force. Indeed, in the latter part of the war, as tactics changed to defence in depth it commonly served well in advance of the front line. It had a less enviable record for its casualty rate. Some 170,500 officers and men served in the MGC with 62,049 becoming casualties, including 12,498 killed, earning it the nickname "the Suicide club."

 The 21st were in action during the Battle of Pilkhem Ridge, the opening action  The Third Battle of Ypres and on 31st July 1917. A huge artillery bombardment followed by a creeping barrage opened the assault as British infantry advanced towards German lines. Great progress was made in the early hours of the battle but as the day progressed the attack lost momentum, slowed by heavy rain and determined German counter attacks. With the offensive halted, the British infantry withdrew from their furthest forward positions, consolidated their gains and were able to repulse further enemy counter attacks. Gains included the strategically important Pilckem Ridge, Bellewaarde Ridge and German observation posts on Gheluveld Plateau. The 21st were involved in holding these positions for the rest of the battle.

On 3rd November 1917 he was evacuated from the field suffering with influenza. He spent time recovering in the St John's Ambulance Brigade hospital in Etaples and at the base depot in Camiers, returning to his unit on 4th January 1918. On 1st March 1918 the 21st Company was moved into the 30th Battalion, The Machine Gun Corps, attached to the 30th Division. The Battalion were in postitions near the town of St Quentin during March 1918, their strength stood at 47 officers and 892 other ranks. Thursday 21st March dawned a very misty day, at o440 the Germans had started a heavy artillery bombardement of Allied positions, including gas shells. At 0800 the Germans attacked in great numbers and the Battalion fought a rearguard action over the next couple of days falling back to the village of Ham. By 25th April the Battalion after inflicting heavy casualties on the Germans had suffered heavy casualties and had only 3 guns operational and were forced to withdraw and moved by train back to St Valery then on to camp at Ochancourt. Reorganisation and refitting were carried out until 5th April when they moved into the Elverdinge, near Ypres, the Battalion now down to 37 officers and 620 other ranks. They moved up to the front line and on 17th April fired 40,00 rounds against the German advance at Kemmel Ridge on the River Lys defences,  but the rest of April was a fairly quiet period in this sector.

 The Germans were unable to move supplies and reinforcements fast enough to maintain their advance. The fast-moving storm troopers leading the attack could not carry enough food and ammunition to sustain themselves for long and all the German offensives petered out, in part through lack of supplies. By late April 1918, the danger of a German breakthrough had passed. The German Army had suffered heavy casualties and now occupied ground of dubious value which would prove impossible to hold with such depleted units. 

On 13th May 1918 he was one of 67 men posted to the 31st Battalion, The Machine Gun Corps, part of the 31st Division. On 28th June 1918 the 31st Battalion were in action at La Beque, south of Ypres, a local offensive to advance the British line out of Aval Wood. He was wounded in this action a with a gunshot wound to his right leg and taken to 93 Field Ambulance before moving to the 3rd Canadian Hospital in Boulogne. He was discharged to the MGC base camp at Camiers on 13th July 1918, returning to his battalion on 3rd August.

Later that month the Battalion were involved in advancing the lines and clearing the village of Vieux Berquin was involved in the Advance in Flanders and he was again wounded in action, by the effects of a gas shell on 16th August during the Final Advance on Flanders. He was evacuated from the field to a casualty clearing station and then onto No 4 Stationary Hospital in Arques St Omer. He returned to his battalion on 14th September 1918 until going home on leave on 23rd September until 7th October rejoining his unit on 12th October. Three days later, however, he was back in hospital, wounded again in action, and returning to his battalion on 3rd November 1918.

He remained in France past Armistice Day, being promoted to acting sergeant on 8th December 1918. He was then posted to 33rd Battalion as a corporal on 29th March 1919 and given leave to England between 1st and 15th May. He was made up to full sergeant on 20th June 1919 then posted to 61st Battalion, in Rouen on 5th August. He returned to England on the 24th September 1919 for demobilization, but remained in the army reserves. He had three more children with Emmeline, John in 1921, Alan in 1922 and Margaret, my mother, in 1928. Emmeline died in 1935 and he re-married in Hilda Mcarthur, below, in Stoke Newington in 1949. She died in 1962 and he married for a third time in 1966, aged 77 to Christine Gilbert. He died in September 1972 aged 83. 

His son John Alfred Garland was killed in action on the 12th January 1945 whilst serving as a corporal with the 5th/7th Battalion, The Gordon Highlanders. He was aged 24 and is buried in Hotton Military Cemetery in the Ardennes. He was killed after being separated from his unit during "The Battle of the Bulge" and was hitching a lift in an American truck which was bombed.

My paternal grandfather William George Kingsford was born on 13th April 1886, in Deptford then in Kent, to parents Frederick Kingsford, a house decorator and his wife Maria. He was christened George William but on the 1901 census was listed as William George. He married Clara Shelley on 18th October 1908 at St James Church, Bermondsey and where living at 2, Penn Street, Greenwich, where he worked as a house painter. They had four children born before he enlisted; William in 1909, Eleanor in 1911, Clara in 1912 and Maria in 1915. By 1915 the war on the Western front and at Gallipoli had decimated the old professional army. It was at this point of crisis that Lord Kitchener approached, among many others, the heads of municipalities including the Mayor of Deptford, Councillor William Wayland, J.P. with a request that he would undertake to raise a unit. The Council, recognising, the gravity of the call said it would do all in its power to raise a unit in record time. The men of Deptford, including my grandfather, responded. At a town's meeting at the Deptford Town Hall on May 27th, 1915, the Mayor was able to announce that 200 men had already given in their names for the 174th (Deptford) Brigade, The Royal Field Artillery.

He had attested on  25th May 1915,  joining the fledgling unit the following day. Such was the response, that by 4th August the Mayor was able to announce that 2,500 men had enlisted and eventually 4 brigades and an ammunition column as formed were formed, as the 39th (Deptford) Division. An old ironworks was taken over as an HQ and basic training undertaken on Blackheath Common. He was posted to B battery 174 Brigade on 15th August 1915. After a review held on Blackheath, in which the Mayor took the salute, the Division left for artillery training at Aldershot. The brigade was embodied into the Army on 1st October 1915 and equipped with 18 pounders. William Kingsford was appointed Driver, able to lead a team of six horses pulling the artillery pieces as well as cover all the firing positions in the gun team. Further training was carried out at Milford Camp near Godalming, Surrey. 

The 174th Brigade embarked at Southampton on 4th March 1916 for Le Havre, from where they were conveyed by train to camp some 25 miles behind the British front line. It was bitterly cold and sleet and snow were falling as the Brigade marched the final 10 miles to the camp. On 9th the Brigade was ordered to proceed to a forward area at Estaires for their first taste of action. They were withdrawn from the line on 23rd March and billeted at Mazinghein, where they were re-supplied and undertook further training. After various attachments to other divisions for training in action, the 39th Divisional Artillery went into action under their own staff and commanders for the first time, when they relieved the 38th Divisional Artillery in the Festubert-Givenchy area on the 14th April ten months approximately from the day the first recruit joined at Deptford. Registration of the enemy's front line, machine gun emplacements and observation posts, and shooting at any visible working parties on the enemy's side of the line, were the chief targets engaged during April and May. On 20th May 1916 my grandfather was posted to C company with 186th Brigade, which was equipped with Howitzers.

A larger operation was carried out by the Division against a portion of the enemy's trenches known as the Boar's Head on 30th June. The preliminary bombardment and wire-cutting by the artillery commenced on the afternoon of 29th, and was reported as very effective. The final bombardment commenced shortly before 0300 on the 30th, the Infantry going over the top just after, the guns lifting their fire and putting down an intense barrage in strong support. On 8th July the Division moved to Bethune and several bombardments of the German trenches took place, in addition to the normal daily shoots previously planned. A few batteries changed their gun positions during the month, in order to more effectively carry out special shoots, and towards the end of the month four batteries had been withdrawn from action to rest and for training. The four months spent in this quiet sector were most instructive to all ranks, although no operations on a very large scale were undertaken. In addition to the daily shooting, gun drill, laying and fuze setting took place, also building and improvements to gun positions. In the wagon lines considerable work was carried out to improve the conditions both for men and horses. Early in August the Divisional Artillery were relieved, and by the 10th all batteries were in the rest area. On the 11th August the Division commenced its march to the south, concentrating at St. Michel, near St. Pol, for Brigade and Divisional training. 

The Battle of the Somme had commenced on 1st  July 1916 and in August the Deptford division was thrown into the struggle, the sector occupied being just north of the River Ancre, almost opposite the German stronghold of Beaumont-Hamel which was very strongly held and fortified by the enemy, and up till now had successfully beaten off every attack made on its defences, although thousands of shells had been fired into it from the first day of the battle. On September 1st an attack was made on the German trenches opposite, to assist a larger attack being made on the south of the river. The guns of the Divisional Artillery fired from 0500 until mid-day, the German wire being well cut and the bombardment very effective. The batteries suffered few casualties, although they came in for a large amount of retaliation from the enemy's guns. On the 6th September the Division co-operated in the successful attack on Thiepval, and on the 28th in the attack on another German stronghold called the Schwaben redoubt. By the last week in October the weather became so deplorable that operations had to be continually postponed. The battle casualties during the month were not heavy, but owing to the wet weather and intense cold at night many cases of sickness, including eleven officers, had to be evacuated to the Base. On the night of the 19th November the Divisional Artillery were withdrawn from action, having been continuously in the line since August.

On 9th December the 186th returned to action, taking up positions north of Ypres and shooting on strong points in the enemy's lines, and reprisals for hostile artillery fire. On Christmas Day 1916 a steady rate of fire was maintained throughout the day on the German front lines. The New Year opened quietly, and considerable work was commenced on improvements to gun positions and wagon lines, adding to the comfort of both men and horses. On 20th February the Divisional Artillery were relieved in the line, and went back into Corps reserve, proceeding into action 20th April 1917 returning to the front on 5th May. C company, the 186th were very heavily shelled and compelled to leave their position after having two gun-pits set on fire and ammunition blown up. Headquarters 186th were also bombarded on and during the night the Germans plugged in about 400 rounds of heavy howitzer shells. By the 21st the 186th Brigade were again in action and the Divisional Artillery made preparations to participate in the great offensive about to be launched, known as the Third  Battle of Ypres. Just before 0400 on the 31st July the attack commenced on the whole army front, and hundreds of tons of ammunition were fired. For days the battle waged with varying success, all batteries firing in support intermittently day and night. Several batteries moved into advanced positions in and about the old British front line, where very little shelter or protection was to be found, the whole area being pitted with shell holes, gradually filling up with water. The weather could not have been worse, but all ranks cheerfully responded to every call made in serving their guns under most trying circumstances. Wagon lines and sections of the Divisional Artillery Column were shelled by day and bombed by night, giving practically no rest to either man or beast.  The battle continued during August, all batteries being engaged day and night in keeping the enemy's positions under continuous fire,  but although batteries were in very exposed positions which were heavily shelled on many occasions, there was no single instance of any battery failing to carry out its firing programme. Many casualties were sustained during this period of the battle, and the work performed by parties delivering ammunition at ail hours of the day and night thoroughly deserved the special merit received, the casualties to such parties being many. By 23rd August the Divisional Artillery was withdrawn to rest and refit until 1st September, and again in the middle of October. By the 4th November all batteries were back again in action, continuing the harassing fire on the enemy's positions. The areas occupied by the batteries were subjected to considerable hostile shelling, which caused many casualties. The campaign ended on 10th November and on the 18th November the guns were withdrawn and the Divisional Artillery moved into the northern part of the Ypres sector. After a period of rest, re-equipping and training the Deptford boys returned to the front in January 1918.

At 0430 on the 21st March the great German offensive began against the lines of the Fifth Army, of which the 39th Division formed a part. The bombardment and barrage were terrific, and by 1000 the enemy had attacked in a thick mist on a front of about fifty miles. From the opening of the bombardment the Divisional Artillery were " standing to," in reserve, and at 1400 were ordered to reinforce the line, the enemy having succeeded in forcing back our forward positions. The 186th Brigade having their gun limbers close by, remained in action until the enemy were within 300 yards of the guns before withdrawing to fresh positions. On the 22nd the attack continued and sixteen 18 pounder guns were consequently lost to the enemy. The Division fell back as the attack continued, counter attacking where they could from new positions only moving back when compelled to do so by close enemy machine-gun fire, and crossing the Somme shortly before the bridge was blown up, one gun from C company being destroyed by an enemy shell. On the 27th Match the enemy renewed the attack, the guns of the 39th Division engaging apart of the attacking troops with observed and barrage fire. The enemy, having forced back before the right flank, compelled the 186th Brigade to withdraw to new positions, but by retiring the guns inflicted considerable losses on the enemy over the open sights. During the evening parties of the enemy crossed the Somme with machine-guns, placing some of the batteries in a somewhat exposed position. On 28th Match support and covering fire were given to what was known as Carey's force, remnants of shattered units, including the 186th, hastily collected under the command of General Carey and at 2100 both artillery brigades reported that, although infantry were retiring through the batteries, they still remained in action, and were able to inflict considerable punishment on the enemy. The 39th Divisional Infantry were transferred to the northern part of the British front on 30th March. On the 4th April the Germans attacked this sector and in the opening bombardment the batteries suffered severely and communications to Brigade HQ were cut. Accurate fire from C battery of the 186th halted a massed attack  and despite the enemy attacking with great strength the batteries remained in position until nightfall. The batteries had lost 3 officers, 70 other ranks and 110 horses, killed or wounded by shelling and machine gun fire, but the Germans did not attack again in part of the line, and the 139th Division moved again, this time in support of a counter-attack by the Australians. On 13th April the Division was withdrawn south of Amiens for rest and refitting, one of the last Divisions that had fought against the Spring Offensive to leave the field. 

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The great German attack had failed in its attempt to reach the Channel ports and divide the Allied Armies. But at what a cost ! Miles of beautiful country were laid waste, with many towns and villages shattered almost beyond recognition. It was the last chance which could possibly come to the enemy to effect the hoped-for break through, for his own re- sources in men and material, as well as supplies and animals, were at a very low ebb. In the shock sustained by the British Armies with this supreme effort of the enemy, the 39th Divisional Artillery loyally and heroically took their share, adding honour to their name and also to the country and borough they represented. On the 3rd July the Divisional Artillery was transferred by rail to Flanders to occupy reserve positions, the 186th Brigade subsequently moving into the line on the 7th July to support the advance that eventually led to the defeat of the Germans. 

My grandfather's time on the front line ended on 21st August 1918, when he was posted back to base camp. His fifth child Harry had been born on 19th June 1918 and he left France on 8th September and was posted to 120th Brigade, eventually being demobilized on the 31st March 1920. He had two more sons Frank in 1920 and Richard, my father, in 1923. He died in 1948 aged 63.


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