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40378 PRIVATE TOM DRYDEN
2/4th BATTALION OF THE DUKE OF WELLINGTON'S REGIMENT
1st to the 11th NOVEMBER 1918
in NORTHERN FRANCE.
Tom's mother and father,
George Dryden and
Jane Dryden ( nee Joy )
- outside 39 Grace Street ,Barnsley.
Of course my father, Thomas Henry Potter, never knew his Uncle Tom who was killed in France, near the Belgian border, 3 days before the end of the First World War, aged 39 years.
Dad was named after him, and was born three years after his death.
Tom's Regiment and the War Graves Commission supplied lots of information and allowed me to follow Tom's last few days during the massive German retreat and fierce fighting at the very end of the War. I do not yet know when Tom enlisted in the Army, or what action he was in during the War, but the last days are well documented in the war diary kept by his Regiment.
Dad knew and visited Tom's wife, his Aunty Frances. She had no children.
ACTION IN NORTHERN FRANCE
On the 1st November 1918, Tom was 'training' at Solesmes in North-east France. I presume 'training' means resting or recouping after the rapid eastwards advance.
The night of 2nd/3rd November saw Tom marching the 6km ( 4 miles ) north to Escarmain village, to be billeted there that night until they took over that part of the front at midnight 3rd/4th November.
Escarmine is a small, neat, village in rural France. The main street slopes northwards down to the River Ecaillon, the middle of the village is dominated by a large church and also now a memorial to the 37 civilian war victims. At each corner of the memorial stands a huge mortar shell. The village was captured at the very end of October, just a few days earlier.
Escarmine High Street Looking north
Tom was here on Midnight 3/4th Nov 1918
Memorial at the centre of Escarmine
Sunken road 5.30am 4th Nov
At midnight the battalion formed up and moved forward from Escarmain along a previously reconnoitred track to the Sunken road, which was the forward start line for the attack. The area is criss-crossed by sunken country lanes and small rivers, very similar to parts of Cornwall. This move was achieved without difficulty.
At 5.30 am a heavy barrage was sent over and Tom's platoon and two other platoons set off in columns at intervals. They were closely following men of the Hampshire Regiment, who were to take the first objective.
This barrage attracted a considerable retaliatory barrage from the Germans who were awaiting the attack. This barrage landed amongst the two platoons of the Duke of Wellington's and caused several casualties of the leading Company.
Ruesnes cemetery at the end of the sunken road contains many British Army graves. There are 3 officers and 16 men of the Duke of Wellingtons Regiment buried here between the 4th and the 6th November. ( A total of 3 officers and 17 other ranks were reported killed, together with 21 reported missing for the whole action ).
The German barrage was laid down onto the railway. at 7.51 am
The enemy barrage was laid down onto the railway and the advance here had to be made in 'artillery formation' .
The advancing Hampshires captured their objective just east of the railway and the Duke of Wellingtons passed through at 7.51am close behind the advancing barrage to capture their own objective, the east bank of the River Rhonelle.
The advance was over this country- side.
10.15am at La Belle Maison Farm
Advance was then made to La Belle Maison Farm which dominates a cross-roads. This farm was strongly held by Germans with 2 field guns and 4 machine guns.
Under cover of the surrounding walls the house was eventually entered by a platoon and the occupying enemy were killed.
The rear Companies then passed through and at 10.15am after some machine gun opposition the final objective east of the cross-roads was taken and consolidated. The advance being 11km ( 7 miles ) in less than 5 hours.
The advance was then taken over by the 5th Duke of Wellingtons.
Back yard of the farm at La Belle Maison Farm ( this is actually called La Belle Femme according to the map !! )
On the 6th November the battalion re-organised and marched off to Ritonaart, to be sent off to the Ravine de Mecavignes, on the River Sambre on 6th November. After billeting at La Grand Rue-Bottiau, the 11th November found them east of the River Solre, south-east of Mauberge.
AWOINGT CEMETERY NEAR CAMBRAI
From all this detail it can be reckoned that Tom was wounded between 5.30am and 7.51am on the 4th November 1918. His injuries were probably caused by the enemy barrage which hit the leading platoons when they were advancing between the sunken road at Ruesnes and the River Rhonelle, most likely at the railway.
He then faced a 28km journey ( 171/2 mile ) back to the military medical centre at Awoingt, with his comrade 40310 Private Dignan.
Tom died four days later and was buried on the 8th November in the adjoining War cemetery which contains 636 British, 15 New Zealand, 1 Indian and 57 German soldiers.
All these men were buried there facing south ( except for the Indian who faces east ) between October 1918, when the area was captured, and the end of the war on 11th November when the Armistice was signed at 11 o'clock.
Tom was 39 years old and his grave simply says "
Abide with me fast falls the Eventide ".
His age is wrongly given as 38 years.
A notice appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle which said -
" No mother's care did him attend,
Nor o'er him did a father bend ;
No sister to shed a tear,
No brother his last words to hear. "