Friday, 2 October 2015

Timothy George Kitchell 25th September 1915

Timothy George Kitchell

1st November 1884-25th September 1915

Timothy George Kitchell was born in Lodsworth near Midhurst in Sussex on 1st November 1884. His parents were John Kitchell and Bertha Kate Ford who had married in the summer of 1882 in Midhurst. Bertha had a two year old son, James and the first of two children born to the couple, a daughter Hannah, arrived at the beginning of 1883. Bertha died eight years later at the age of 31. John married again in 1899 at the age of 46 a widow named Louisa Welland. She brought with her four children aged from eighteen down to eight so by time Timothy was fifteen, he was living with his father, stepmother, sister and five step-siblings from three relationships.

Timothy enlisted in the navy on 25 February 1901 for 12 years. He had dark hair, hazel eyes and a fair complexion and was only 5ft 1½ins tall. This seems rather small but he was just sixteen. He served on the training ship HMS St Vincent, a training ship for boys, at Haslar in Portsmouth. He was on the ship when the 1901 census was taken.

It appears that the naval life was not for him as he left the navy in December 1901 and instead became a mason. When the 1911 census was taken he was lodging in The Lamb Inn at Lambs Green near Rusper in Sussex, presumably working on a local job.

Timothy at some point joined the army as he was next listed in the 2nd battalion of the Royal Berkshire regiment which was one of the regular army battalions. They were in India at the outbreak of war in August 1914 and returned to England in October. They were sent to Winchester and became part of the 25th Brigade in 8th Division which was a division formed by combining regular army battalions returning from all over the world in 1914. The division was led by Major-General Francis Davies. On 5 November 1914, the Royal Berkshires landed at Le Havre. They served on the Western Front for the entire war taking part in all the major battles on this front including Neuve Chapplle in March 1915 and Aubers in May 1915.

They were on the front line during the first Christmas of the war and the war diary for the Berkshires on 24th December 1914 reads “In trenches at Fauqissart. At 7pm enemy ceased fire and an informal truce commenced, communications taking place by word of mouth between our men and the enemy. 25th Dec. Men got up on parapet and advanced half way towards German trenches and in some cases conversed with them. Orders given at 11am prohibiting men from going beyond parapet. Much work done in improving trenches during this day. The enemy protested against barbed wire being repaired and stopped enemy from repairing theirs, (5 men to hospital, 7 men from hospital).”

On September 25th 1915, the battle of Bois Grenier began. This battle was part of a huge offensive known as The Big Push which involved three separate attacks by combined French and British troops. The plan was evolved by French commander Joffre and was to use immense numbers of soldiers to overpower the Germans in their trenches. They would use every type of firepower available to them and continual waves of fresh men would totally overpower the enemy. As well as attacks on the ground the Royal Flying Corps would attack from the air.

The account of the battle as written a few days later by Lt Col GPS Hunt make fascinating reading because of the amount of detail it gives. On the evening of September 24th, the troops were moved into position in the trenches. Supplies of ammunition, water and periscopes were brought to the front and engineers worked to deepen the trenches. The soldiers were ordered to march out without greatcoats and packs but they were carrying haversacks. They each had a waterproof sheet under the flap of their haversacks and a mess tin as well as two bombs in a sandbag on their belts. Each man also had a shovel strapped on his back.

The troops were divided into front line and second line attack. The front line were to take the front German trench and hold it so that the second line could bomb the second Geman trench. Bombing parties were arranged and distributed along the front trench. Between the allied and German lines there was barbed wire but prior to the big push, most had been cut by soldiers working at night protected by machine gun and rifle fire. 

The attack began at 4.25 in the morning and continued until 5 using field guns and howitzers. Part of the company was caught in a searchlight and in the wire and was fired upon. The bombs did not work well as the fuses got wet in the rain and eventually they ran out. By two in the afternoon, the Royal Berkshires had retreated to the British lines. The attack had failed and the German lines, while damaged were not destroyed and no ground was taken.

Somewhere in all this Timothy Kitchell was killed, one of over 1000 Allied troops who died on that day, 334 of them from the Royal Berkshire regiment. As he is remembered on the memorial, rather than buried and was listed as presumed dead we can assume he was lost somewhere in the mayhem.

From the register of soldier’s effects, Timothy’s sole legatee was given as James Summerfield. I have no idea who James Summerfield was in relation to Timothy but there was a gamekeeper near Rusper named James Summerfield, so maybe he was someone Timothy knew and trusted. Why his effects did not go to his family is a mystery.