In March we remember...
Wednesday, March 1, 2017
In March we remember the sacrifice made by Eltisley men Albert John Smith-Chappell (l) and Sidney George Hayden (r). Albert was killed on 21st March 1918 and Sidney George on 25th, during the German Army’s Spring Offensive, their final attempt to end the War.
Albert Smith-Chappell was called up in April 1917, when he was 18. He was initially enlisted in the 3rd Bedfordshires, but was transferred into the Machine Gun Corps in October 1917. It is said that the fittest and best of the men were taken into the Machine Gun Corps where intelligent men were needed to man the guns. Albert’s front line service was brief - he was killed within four months of the end of his training. In the spring of 1918 the Allies were expecting a German offensive against the heavily outnumbered Allied troops. The task of the machine gun crews in the expected German attack was to delay the onslaught, giving the infantry and artillery units time to fall back to new positions. The Vickers crews were told that they were to hold out to the last.
The German offensive began with a massive artillery bombardment over a fifty mile stretch of the front line, one million artillery shells fired over five hours, followed by an attack by German elite storm troopers, advancing through thick fog. The British troops were outnumbered by three to one, and some machine gun posts were quickly over-run, with others making heroic stands. Albert died in this fierce fighting, aged 19, the youngest of Eltisley’s men to die.
Sidney George Hayden enlisted at St Neots in the 1st Battalion Cambridgeshire Regiment on 24th January 1916, on the same day as his friends Frank Riseley and Alick Childerley. Sidney George and Frank were born in Eltisley on the same day and Alick was born three months later. They all lived around the village green. The three friends arrived in France together in March 1916. In November 1916 Alick was seriously injured and subsequently discharged from service. In September 1917 Frank was killed, leaving Sidney George the last of the three friends remaining in France.
On 21st March 1918 the 1st Cambridgeshires received orders that they were to ‘Prepare to Move’, in fighting order, to Longavesnes, east of Albert, and to dig themselves in there. The battalion was involved in heavy fighting over the following ten days, and Sidney George was killed, one of 204 from his battalion ‘missing in action’ during that time. His name is listed on the Pozieres Memorial, as a casualty with no known grave. Sidney George was the last Eltisley lad to be killed in the War; he was 23 years old.