October 26th 1917 was the first day of the second battle of Passchendaele. Thousands of allied troops took part in this attack including two of my distant cousins. Here are their stories.
Albert Walter Choney 11 August 1889-26 October 1917
Albert Walter Choney was born on 11th August 1889 at Bramley in Surrey. His parents, William Choney and Alice Carpenter, were married on 14th May 1887 at Holy Trinity Church in Bramley. Their first child William was born in 1888 and the following year the family welcomed Albert Walter. He was baptised at Holy Trinity Church in Bramley a week later.
When the census was taken in April 1891, the family were living at Birtley Road in Bramley, now the A281 between Guildford and Horsham but then, of course, much quieter. William senior was an agricultural labourer and William junior was three years old. Albert was eighteen months while Alice was just a few weeks away from giving birth to Herbert. Two years later, the boys acquired a little sister, Alice and in 1895 another brother Ernest.
In 1901, the family; William, still an agricultural labourer, Alice and the children, William aged 13, Albert aged 11, Herbert aged 9, Alice aged 7 and 5 year old Ernest were still in Bramley. In June of 1902 the family welcomed their last child Annie.
After this the family moved frequently and from information in brother William’s military records, the family were living at Log Carter's Cottage at Epsom Down in 1906 then they moved to Longdown Cottages Ewell, then 40 Walnut Tree Close Guildford. By 1911 they had moved to Batt’s Farm Cottages in Warlingham where William senior was employed as a carter for a market gardener. Only three of the six children were left at home although all were still alive. Albert was aged 22 and a carter as was sixteen year old Ernest while Annie, aged eight was at school.
On Christmas Day 1912 Albert married Annie Mansfield at St Mary’s Church in Ewell. Both were living at Longdown Cottages in Ewell. They are recorded on the electoral registers in 1915 at 37 Providence Place in Epsom. Later that year Albert joined the 2nd Battalion the Queens Royal West Surrey Regiment.
The 1st and 2nd battalions of the ‘Surreys’ were initially made up of regular soldiers who came back from postings overseas in 1914. They joined the British Expeditionary Force in September 1914 as part of the 22nd Brigade of the 7th Division. The scale of casualties in both the 1st and 2nd battalions was horrific; by the end of the first week of November 1914 there were only thirty-two survivors out of a total of 998 men from the 1st Battalion. The 2nd Battalion had suffered 676 casualties. Their ranks were to be filled by Territorials, men from Kitchener’s “New Army” and then Conscripts. One of these was Albert Choney who went to France on 27 Jul 1915. Later that year they were transferred form the 7th to the 91st division.
The battalion fought in all the battles on the Western Front throughout 1915, 1916 and into 1917. At some point Albert was injured because he is found recuperating at Bury St Edmunds in November 1916, the same month as the announcement in the London Gazette of his having been awarded the military medal. By the autumn of 1917 he was back in Belgium and fighting again with the Royal Surrey Regiment.
October 26th 1917 saw the first day of the Second Battle of Passchendaele. The intention of this battle was to reach and take the occupied high ground around Passchendaele in order to cut off the supply lines for the German forces from Ostend and Zeebrugge. Many hundreds of troops from battalions all over the commonwealth were involved. The plan for the battle was given to officers in a secret order on the 23rd of the month and recorded in the war diary.
“The battalion will march to camp at Fernoy Far today.” “Strict attention will be paid to march discipline and to dress. No unauthorised articles may be worn outside equipment. Dress – F.S. (Field Service) Marching order. Steel helmets will be worn.”
The attack was planned meticulously and involved troops attacking en masse under the protection of gunfire. “The attack will be carried out under an artillery barrage which will be put down in depth by guns of all calibres.” The troops were to form two long lines and, “the strictest precautions will be taken to prevent betrayal of assembly by noise or movement. Bayonets will not be fixed until zero hour.”
Air attacks were also planned for “The rear platoons of each company will keep one Lewis gun section to deal with low flying aeroplanes.”
The story of the 26th October is told. The men formed up in a long line and started the attack at six in the morning and all was going well until the main operations post was struck by a shell. The ground was sloping which meant that some sections of the brigade were able to advance more quickly than others. It also meant that German gunners were able to attack them while they were struggling through the mud uphill. Many officers were killed or wounded and the men lost their line of command. There was general confusion and the soldiers converged on the command post thus breaking the line. It was filled in again as quickly as possible with men who had become separated from their units. However, enemy shelling was intense and there were many casualties both among officers and men. Many more soldiers were recorded as missing than killed in this battle, one of those being Albert Choney.
He is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial.
Albert’s wife Annie did not marry again Her parents were dead and she appears to have become very much part of the Choney family. She lived near them in Epsom for the rest of her life and when she died in 1939 was buried at Epsom Cemetery. The inscription on her grave reads “Wife of Albert Walter Choney, Daughter in law of William and Alice Choney.”
William and Alice’s four sons all went to war and only Herbert and Ernest returned. Their older son William died in November 1914. The remaining children, part from Annie, all married and had children and the family still live in the Epsom area.
CHONEY, ALBERT WALTER
Service Number S/505
The Queen's (Royal West Surrey Regiment)
The Queen's (Royal West Surrey Regiment)
Son of William George and Alice Mary Choney, of 15, Beaconsfield Cottages, East St., Epsom; husband of Annie Elizabeth Choney, of 10, Beaconsfield Cottages, East St., Epsom, Surrey.
Frederick Victor Innes Risbridger 1887-1917
Frederick Risbridger was born in the autumn of 1887 in Wonersh in Surrey, the second of seven children of Henry Risbridger and Catherine Hankins. Henry and Catherine were married on 24 Oct 1884 at Shamley Green in Surrey. Their first child Henry William was born the following spring, followed by Frederick two years later and Ernest George two years after that. The first girl, Hilda Sarah joined the family in 1893, then another boy, Alfred John in 1895. The family was rounded off by Margaret Frances in 1901 and Robert James in 1903. All the children were born in Wonersh but baptised either at Shamley Green or Graffham. In 1901 the family were living at Rooks Hill in Bramley, moving over to Shamley Green by 1911. Henry, the father of this large family, worked as a shepherd.
Frederick joined the army on 22nd November 1915 at which time he was living at Goose Green near Bramley. He joined the 2/5th battalion of the Royal Lancaster Regiment which trained in the UK until February 1917. The battalion was part of the Territorial Army and formed in Lancashire, although by the time Frederick joined in Guildford they were based in Sevenoaks in Kent. Later they moved to Aldershot and in February 1917 were mobilised for war arriving in France in late February. The first battle in which they took part was the Second Battle of Passchendaele which began on 26th October 1917.
The intention of this battle was to reach and take the occupied high ground around Passchendaele in order to cut off the supply lines for the German forces from Ostend and Zeebrugge. The role of the 57th division, of which the Lancasters were part, was to provide diversionary assaults to enable Canadian troops to mount the main offensive at the northern end of the line. The weather in the run up to October 26th was severe with heavy rain making the ground treacherous with deep mud. The Canadian war diary for the week before the battle records that working parties laid wooden boards on which to march but they became so slippery that men were in danger of falling off and being lost in the boggy ground.
Many thousands of troops from divisions all over the commonwealth were involved in the battle of October 26th. The attack began at 6 in the morning and initially some progress was made but the mud and opposition firing forced a retreat so that at the end of the day they were back where they had started.
Among the many soldiers who did not make it back that day was Frederick Risbridger. When the roll call was taken at 6pm, he was one of many men who were missing presumed dead.
After the war, Frederick’s parents and almost all of their children continued to live in the villages south of Guildford. Their youngest son, Robert, emigrated to New Zealand in 1947 with his young family. Only three of the children married and from seven children, Henry and Catherine only had four grandchildren.
Remembered with Honour
Tyne Cot Memorial
In Memory of
Private Frederick Risbridger
28581, 2nd/5th Bn., King's Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment) who died on 26 October 1917 Age 29
Son of Henry and Caroline Risbridger, of Selhurst Common, Bramley, Guildford, Surrey.
Rickard, J (17 August 2007), Second Battle of Passchendaele, 26 October-10 November 1917 , www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_passchendaeleII.html