Albert George Merritt 1898-1918
Thomas Richard Pullen 1895-1918
John Lamboll, Albert Merritt and Thomas Pullen all died in the same battle on 28th March 1918. All were related to me, though not to each other and all came from Surrey but the stories of how they came to be killed on the same day is very different
What was later to be known as the Spring Offensive was launched by the Germans on March 21st 1918. Over the previous few months, the war on the ground had slowed down; the Eastern front in Russia and neighbouring countries had been closed and the German troops brought back to Europe. Much of the damage over the previous few weeks had been from the air with planes being developed and improved all the time and air raids over the battlefields on both sides.
Contemporary reports describe aircraft flying low over the trenches and attacking troops on the ground. London and the south of England had been bombed with many casualties. The Americans were due to join the allied forces which would strengthen them considerably but in the meantime the Western front was at stalemate. The allied leaders knew that a large attack was imminent as their spy planes has reported large numbers of German forces gathering and on the allied side, work to dig new fortifications along a forty plus mile front line was speeded up and as many troops as possible brought in.
The Germans attacked early in the morning of the 21st using crack troops to quickly overpower and infiltrate the allied lines. These troops were lightly equipped so that they could move fast but had weapons such as flame throwers to cause swift damage. They succeeded in forcing hand to hand fighting as they entered allied trenches and it was estimated that over a million shells were launched from the enemy lines in the first five hours. The Fifth Army commanded by Gough were ordered to withdraw and those who were left did so as best they could but the lines were fragmented and small groups of men left without command. Despite great bravery by allied soldiers, many were killed or taken prisoner.
The fighting contented for days and was still raging on the 28th when out three men lost their lives.
Thomas Richard Pullen was the eldest of the three, born in Croydon in the spring of 1895, the second child of eight born to Thomas Pullen and Liza Coombes. Thomas and Liza were married in the spring of 1882 in Lurgashall, a small village near Midhurst in Sussex, where Thomas was working as a farm labourer and where they both grew up. Their first child, Charles Henry was a few weeks later. By the spring of 1885 the family had moved to Uckfield in Surrey, where second child Thomas Richard was born. By the time the third son William John arrived two and a half years later, they were back in Sussex at Lodsworth, another small village near Midhurst and were still there two years after that for the birth of their first daughter Winifred Agnes. By the time the 1891 census was taken they had returned to the family roots in Lurgashall.
Sometime in the next four years, Thomas and Liza embarked on a bigger move into the suburbs of London where Ernest George arrived at the end of 1895. The family was rounded off by Edith in 1898, Victor in 1899 and Stanley in 1903. All three give their birthplace as South Norwood, and in 1901, the family were all living in Elmers Road in Croydon. Thomas senior was working as a wood broker’s carman, presumably driving a cart delivering wood.
When he left school, Thomas found employment as a general labourer and in the summer of 1905 he married Florence Kate Hallett. They already had a son, Albert, born earlier in the year and the following summer, Florence was born. They were joined in 1909 by Thomas, then Leonard in 1912 and Dorothy in 1915.
I can find no details of Thomas’s war service, only that when he was killed he was serving with 204th Field ‘Cambridge’ Company which was part of 35th Division and thus the Fifth Army. Field companies provided technical support within a division. They were the engineers of the army. I have no record of how Thomas Pullen was killed but his body was recovered and he is buried in a cemetery on the Somme where he fell.
Back home his wife Florence was left with four children to bring up. Their son Thomas had died in 1915 at the aged of six and his brother Leonard in 1927 at the age of fourteen. Daughter Florence also died young and unmarried in 1930. Her mother married again in 1930 and died in Croydon in 1956. The remaining two children, Albert and Dorothy, married in Croydon and had eight children between them all in Croydon.
The next member of the family to be killed on March 28th 1918 was Albert George Merritt. He was born in April 1894 in Winchester, the eldest son of a serving soldier, George Merritt and Alice Penton who were married in Winchester in the summer of 1893. Five more children followed in Winchester, Alice in 1896, Kate in 1898, Elizabeth in 1900 Alfred in 1901 and Edith in 1904. The family then moved to Alton where Leonard was born in 1908. When George senior left the army the family moved to Peper Harow near Godalming where he became a shepherd and when he left school Albert joined his father on the farm.
When Albert was killed on March 28th 1918, he was a private in the 1st battalion Hampshire Regiment. At the beginning of the war, the 1st battalion was made up of regular soldiers, but by 1918 so many had been lost that it numbered volunteers and conscripts in its ranks too. Albert joined the regiment on Dec 18 1915 and served on the Western Front throughout. By the middle of March the 1st Hampshires were part of the 11th Brigade In advance of the German attack on March 21st, the 1st Battalion were in the second support line and, as with all the other allied troops, were somewhat taken by surprise by the ferocity and tactics of the German attack. Hand to hand fighting took place over the next few days and on the 25th the regiment moved to the front line. In the early hours of the morning on the 28th a huge bombardment took place, followed by wave after wave of attack. The Hampshire’s defended valiantly but were eventually forced to withdraw. At the end of the day, the losses added up to considerable numbers with many men killed wounded or lost. Among those never found was Albert Merritt.
He was awarded the Victory medal and the 1914-15 star and is remembered on the War Memorial at Chiddingfold Church
John Benjamin Lamboll was the youngest of the cousins killed on March 28th 1918. He was born in July 1898 in Haslemere, the only child of Frederick Lamboll and Emma Le Grey who had married the previous summer. John’s childhood was a country one, with his father working as a coachman then later a gardener.
His records are sparse but he was possibly a territorial as he was in the Yeomanry Cycle Regiment and later the 2/7th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers which was a territorial regiment. The 2/7th were based in Britain on home duties until the end of February 1917 when they went to France. They were on the front line of the morning of the 21st March in a quarry and the German attack took them by surprise and surrounded them. They took up positions in the quarry tunnels but the German guns were too powerful and the battalion was forced to surrender. Many were killed or died in the next few days, so many that the remaining members of the battalion were utilised as instructors for the American troops arriving at the battlefield. Sadly John Lamboll as not among them as his death was recorded on March 28th. He has no grave but is remembered on the Pozieres memorial
In Memory of
Lance Corporal T R PULLEN
87212, 204th Field Coy., Royal Engineers
on 28 March 1918
Remembered with honour
RIBEMONT COMMUNAL CEMETERY EXTENSION, Somme
In Memory of
MERRITT, ALBERT GEORGE
Date of Death:28/03/1918
Regiment/Service:Hampshire Regiment 1st Bn.
Panel Reference Bay 6.
In Memory of
Private JOHN BENJAMIN LAMBOLL
52598, 2nd/7th Bn., Lancashire Fusiliers
who died age 19
on 28 March 1918
Son of Fredrick and Emma Florence Lamboll, of Holly Lodge, Weydown Rd., Haslemere, Surrey.
Remembered with honour