Sunday 26 October 2014

Burials at the Front

Monday 26th October 1914: The 2nd Battalion at Ypres has been holding the line. Sadly it has lost two of its officers today. Captain Arthur Hall from Eastbourne was shot by a sniper as was, later in the day, Lieutenant William Bastard. Particular care is taken, when burying the dead, to mark their resting place. The adjutant told us that Lieutenant Bastard was buried: “On the north edge of the wood south of the road junction at the foot of Beselare Hill in the centre of the north edge on the west of the road, close to the bend in the road”[1]. William Bastard had only just been gazetted as a lieutenant on 30th September.[2]

The adjutant of the battalion has contacted us to inform us of Captain Hall's death: "I am told he was looking through his glasses for a sniper when he was shot. The bullet entered his neck and killed him instantly". Sergeant Major F. J. Whitemore has added a warm tribute to the late captain and his behaviour during the late fighting: "A and D Companies of our regiment were ordered to take up positions in the firing line [on 23rd October]. The attack was carried forward to a certain point but with the loss of Captain Bassett of A Company, wounded, also of about thirty six other officers and men killed and wounded. Captain Hall, at great risk to himself, proceeded to give what help was possible to all the officers and men of A Company, and after seeing all the wounded back, the Captain and I took up a position in advance, whilst the battalion entrenched in the rear, and the words he said were to the effect that if possible we must have revenge for the loss that was inflicted on Captain Bassett and his company. After waiting for some time, satisfaction was obtained by dropping three out of a patrol of six. After the event we had a very rough time , being continually under shell fire and fighting with heavy odds against us - it would be impossible to enumerate the acts of bravery by all ranks of our company, needless to say Captain Hall being the first to set the example. The night before his death he was talking with me  over the previous night's attack and remarking how lucky the company was to get back safely with so few casualties and at the time he passed a few remarks on what to do in the event of him becoming a casualty. Unhappily he became one the following morning about 8.20. At the time we were sitting in the trench talking over our escape earlier this morning when a stray bullet struck him and he instantly fell on me, and examining him I found the vein on the right side of the neck was severed and he never spoke a word after being struck, as nothing further could be done, he was buried where he fell. Previous to this incident no night passed without he and I going round the company to look after the welfare of his men and on most occasions bullets were striking all around him and I never once saw him show any signs of fear".

During the morning it was decided that the Guards Brigade would attack Beselare, following the aborted attack of yesterday. Heavy shellfire meant that this attack was, again, aborted. The Bedfords were to advance in the wake of the Guards but in the event did not have to do so.

Sources: X550/3/wd; de Ruvingny's Roll of Honour

[1] Despite this careful marking of its position the war later rode over Lieutenant Bastard’s grave and obliterated it. He is commemorated, along with so many others, on the Menin Gate memorial to the missing in Ypres.

[2] Lt William Bastard was born in Exmouth in 1891 and educated at Tiverton School. He is commemorated on the Exmouth War Memorial.

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