George was assigned to the regular army 15th Field Ambulance as a '(stretcher) bearer' and according to entries in his diary also took on the duties of 'orderly'. The 15th field ambulance, (not a vehicle, a mobile front line medical unit) was attached to the 15th Infantry Brigade, assigned to the 5th Division. The Field Ambulance was a mobile unit of the Royal Army Medical Corps. It was situated quite close behind the fighting front, and received wounded and sick men. Some had received rudimentary treatment at the front-line aid posts. George's role as bearer was extremely hazardous, many of his comrades were killed and injured on the battlefields as they removed the dead and injured whilst under enemy fire. More info on the WW1 Field Ambulance.
There are no specific details available on when he arrived in France but it was almost certainly very early in 1916, so he will have spent his time with the 5th division as below:-
Fifth Division 1916-1918
In late 1915, many units were switched for those of 32nd Division, a newly arrived volunteer formation. The idea was to strengthen ("stiffen" in the jargon of the time) the inexperienced Division buy mixing in some regular army troops; even though by now many of the pre-war regulars had gone and the regular battalions themselves were often largely composed of new recruits.
March 1916 saw a move, with 5th Division taking over a section of front line between St Laurent Blangy and the southern edge of Vimy Ridge, in front of Arras. This was a lively time, with many trench raids, sniping and mining activities in the front lines. When the Franco-British offensive opened on the Somme on 1 July 1916, the 5th Division was enjoying a period of rest and re-fit and was in GHQ Reserve. However, this restful time was not destined to last:
The Attacks on High Wood*
The Battle of Guillemont*
The Battle of Flers-Courcelette*
The Battle of Morval*
The Battle of Le Transloy*
The battles marked * are phases of the Battles of the Somme 1916
By 5 October 1916 the Division had left the Somme and was
holding a quieter line near Festubert. There was a constant threat from enemy artillery and sniper fire, but in comparison with the Somme it was a relatively tranquil period that lasted until March
The Battle of Vimy**
The Attack on La Coulotte**
The Third Battle of the Scarpe** including the Capture by the Division of Oppy Wood
The battles marked ** are phases of the Battles of Arras 1917
On 7 September 1917 the Division was relieved and moved out of
the line for a period, being sent next to join the great offensive in Flanders
The Battle of Polygon Wood***
The Battle of Broodseinde***
The Battle of Poelcapelle***
The Second Battle of Passchendaele***
The battles marked *** are phases of the Third Battle of Ypres
A major change now occurred with 5th Division being one of five British formations selected to be moved to Italy. This was a strategic and political move agreed by the British Government at the request of the Allied Supreme War Council, as an effort to stiffen Italian resistance to enemy attack after a recent disaster at Caporetto. Many diaries at this time, by men who had witnessed slaughter in the floods of Passchendaele, talk of the move and Italy as being "like another world". Much work was done preparing to move into the mountainous area of the Brenta, but eventually the Division was instead moved to the line along the River Piave, taking up positions in late January 1918. Unfortunately this pleasant period was not to last, for the Division was recalled hurriedly to France, once the enemy had made an attack in overwhelming strength on 21 March.
The Battle of Hazebrouck+ in which the battalion fought in the Defence of Nieppe Forest
The battle marked + is a phase of the Battles of the Lys
On 14 August 1918 the Division was withdrawn for rest and placed in GHQ Reserve.
Two weeks later it entered into what became a series of complex, endless, overlapping
Allied attacks that forced the German Army into retreat.
Fighting through Albert (back on the old and devastated Somme ground of 1916), to Irles, Beugny, Havrincourt, Gonnelieu and the River Selle, and finally into Valenciennes and the River Sambre, the Division was in more or less continuous action until late October 1918.
The Battle of Albert+
The Battle of Bapaume+
The Battle of Drocourt-Queant+
The battles marked + are phases of the Second Battles of the Somme 1918
The Battle of the Epehy^
The Battle of the Canal du Nord^
The battles marked ^ are phases of the Battles of the Hindenburg Line
The pursuit to the Selle++
The Battle of the Selle++
The battles marked ++ are phases of the Final Advance in Picardy
The Division remained in the area of Le Quesnoy until mid-December 1918, as demobilisation commenced. On 13 December, the Division began a march into Belgium, eventually to the area between Namur and Wavre. The first men were demobilised on 22 December and more followed at regular intervals through early 1919.
George kept a diary, a small 7 days to a view diary issued to army personnel in which he makes a number of notes and comments. The complete diary for 1917 is still intact and a few months of the 1918 diary survived too. A 'must-read'. All the entries are available for download, see below.
Harry Stevens, born 17-07-1896, from Blacktoft, Howden, enlisted on January 13th 1915, at just under the age of 18 years 6 months and was de-mobbed April 13th 1919 in France. He was in the Royal Field Artillery and was awarded the DCM. More
George Crabtree, from Huddersfield, born 30th November 1896, enlisted on October 2nd 1915, at just over the age of 18 years 10 months and was de-mobbed April 1919 at Ripon. He was in the Royal Army Madical Corps and awarded the MM. More. See his 1917/18 diary entries
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