Two Yorkshiremen of the Great War W H STEVENS G W CRABTREE "Harry" "George"
   Two Yorkshiremen of the Great War   W H STEVENS      G W CRABTREE"Harry"               "George" 

154th/173rd Brigade in WW1

  

Harry's Battery was attached to the 36th (Ulster) Division for the whole of his involvement in WW1.

 

The 154th Brigade departed for France from Southampton on the SS Northwestern Miller on the 27th Nov 2015.  They didn't arrive until the 1st December!  SS NW Miller embarked and broke down twice, returned to The Solent twice.  They eventually transferred to the SS Nirvana and finally made it to Le Havre at 7am after "a rough passage".  Interestingly the NW Miller, a cargo ship constructed at Howden Yard on Tyneside was torpedoed and sunk by a US submarine in 1944 - it was flying Japanese colours by then.  The SS Nirvana, also a cargo ship, was sunk in 1918.

 

He spent his training and the early months in France in the 154th Brigade B Battery (howitzer) which was subsequently renamed D Battery when it became part of the 173rd Brigade  

154th/173rd Brigade War Diaries

British Army War Diaries

Some diaries record little more than daily losses and map references whilst others are much more descriptive, with daily reports on operations, intelligence summaries and other material. The digitised diaries cover activity in France and Belgium.

The diaries sometimes contain information about particular people but they are unit diaries, not personal diaries. A few contain details about awards of the Military Medal and the Meritorious Service Medal.

Many maps and plans were included in the original diaries but some confidential material was removed before the files were made available. This accounts for the absence of some appendices referred to on the covers of many diaries.

Synopsis of 154th B Battery War Diary, Nov 1915 to May 1916 when renamed 173rd Brigade D Battery.
War Diary 154 11-15 to 5-16.docx
Microsoft Word document [15.7 KB]
PDF copy of the actual war diary of 154 Brigade Nov 15 to May 1916
Adobe Acrobat Document (3.07MB)
154 Brigade (How) war diaries Nov15-Aug1[...]
Adobe Acrobat document [3.1 MB]
PDF copy of the handwritten war diary of 173 Brigade Part 1 to Jan 1918
Adobe Acrobat document , very large 49.1MB
173 brigade war diary part 1.pdf
Adobe Acrobat document [49.1 MB]
PDF copy of the mostly handwritten war diary of 173 Brigade Part 2 to the war's end
Adobe Acrobat Document, 20MB, pretty large again
173 brigade war diary part 2 to war end.[...]
Adobe Acrobat document [20.0 MB]

I will provide a synopsis of the 173 diaries as soon as I can - the documents are mostly handwritten and it takes a lot of concentration!

 

31/ 10/2020  If you don't mind paying a little, The Wartime Memories Project has organised the 173rd Brigade Diaries with a day by day link.  There is also lots of information on 173rd Brigade to be found on that site

36th (Ulster) Division

 

The 36th (Ulster) Division was an infantry division of the British Army, part of Lord Kitchener's New Army, formed in September 1914. Originally called the Ulster Division, it was made up of mainly members of the Ulster Volunteer Force, who formed thirteen additional battalions for three existing regiments: the Royal Irish Fusiliers, the Royal Irish Rifles and the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

 

However, often overlooked in many 36th Division histories, regular Officers and Soldiers and men from all around the United Kingdom made up a good part of the Division.  Such as the RFA 173rd Brigade who were a part of the 36th Division for the whole campaign.

 

The division served from October 1915 on Western Front as a formation of the British Army during the Great War.

 

The division's insignia was the Red Hand of Ulster.

 

Formation

The Ulster Volunteers were a unionist militia founded in 1912 to block Home Rule for Ireland. In 1913 they organised themselves into the Ulster Volunteer Force to give armed resistance to the prospective Third Home Rule Act (enacted in 1914). Many Ulster Protestants feared being governed by a Catholic-dominated parliament in Dublin and losing their local supremacy and strong links with Britain. Sir Edward Carson, one of the unionist leaders, made an appeal to Ulster Volunteers to come forward for military service.   Kitchener hoped for a Brigade (four battalions), he got a whole division (three Brigades). Major-General Oliver Nugent took command of the regiment in September 1915 and it moved to France in October 1915.

 

Engagements

The Somme, 1916

The 36th Division was one of the few divisions to make significant gains on the first day on the Somme. It attacked between the Ancre and Thiepval against a position known as the Schwaben Redoubt. According to military historian Martin Middlebrook:

The leading battalions (of the 36th (Ulster) Division) had been ordered out from the wood just before 7.30am and laid down near the German trenches ... At zero hour the British barrage lifted. Bugles blew the "Advance". Up sprang the Ulstermen and, without forming up in the waves adopted by other divisions, they rushed the German front line ..... By a combination of sensible tactics and Ulster dash, the prize that eluded so many, the capture of a long section of the German front line, had been accomplished.[4]

During the Battle of the Somme the Ulster Division was the only division of X Corps (United Kingdom) to have achieved its objectives on the opening day of the battle. This came at a heavy price, with the division suffering in two days of fighting 5,500 officers and enlisted men killed, wounded or missing. War correspondent Philip Gibbs said of the Division, "Their attack was one of the finest displays of human courage in the world.

Of nine Victoria Crosses given to British forces in the battle, four were awarded to 36th Division soldiers.

 
Actions of 36th Division

Thiepval – Somme

 

The 36th Ulster Division's sector of the Somme lay astride the marshy valley of the river Ancre and the higher ground south of the river. Their task was to cross the ridge and take the German second line near Grandcourt. In their path lay not only the German front line, but just beyond it, the intermediate line within which was the Schwaben Redoubt.

The First Day of the Somme was the anniversary (Julian Calendar) of the Battle of the Boyne, a fact remarked on by the leaders of the Division. Stories that some men went over the top wearing orange sashes are, however, sometimes thought to be myths.

"There was many who went over the top at the Somme who were Ulstermen, at least one, Sergeant Samuel Kelly of 9th Inniskillings wearing his Ulster Sash, while others wore orange ribbons".

When some of his men wavered, one Company commander from the West Belfasts, Maj. George Gaffikin, took off his Orange Sash, held it high for his men to see and roared the traditional war-cry of the battle of the Boyne; " Come on, boys! No surrender!"

On 1 July, following the preliminary bombardment, the Ulstermen quickly took the German front line, but intelligence was so poor that, with the rest of the division attacking under creep bombardment (artillery fired in front or over men; they advance as it moves) the Ulstermen would have come under attack from their own bombardment in the German first line.

But they still advanced, moving to the crest so rapidly that the Germans had no time to come up from their dugouts (generally 30–40 feet below ground). In the Schwaben Redoubt, which was also taken, so successful was the advance that by 10:00 some had reached the German second line. But again they came under their own barrage, not due to finish until 10:10. However, this successful penetration had to be given up before nightfall, as it was unmatched by those at its flanks. The Ulstermen were exposed in a narrow salient, open to attack on three sides. They were running out of ammunition and supplies, and a full German counter-attack at 22:00 forced them to withdraw, giving up virtually all they gained.

 

The division had suffered over 5,000 casualties and 2,069 deaths. 

 

The Thiepval Memorial commemorates the 1916 Anglo-French offensive on the Somme and the men who died there, including those from the 36th (Ulster) Division. It is the biggest British war memorial to the missing of the Western Front, both in physical size and the numbers it commemorates (more than 73,000). It was built in the late 1920s to early 1930s.


Battles

 

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This site went online 22-04-2015. Many thanks to those who have provided me with photos and information and apologies if I've inadvertently used any unauthorised material.

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 MMMore.  See his 1917/18 diary entries 

Listen to Harry in 1982, a few soundbites from a recording sent to granddaughter Anne in India
WHS soundbites.mp3
MP3 audio file [2.7 MB]

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This remains a work in progress. There are still many photos, some audio and much information to add. 

 

Should anyone have any useful/extra information, such as images/photos, memories or anecdotes beneficial to this site, then please get in touch and I'll include them. If I've made any errors please let me know.

 

Thanks

Graham Stevens

Harry, far left and George, far right, at the wedding of my parents Harry and Kathleen in August 1954