V Battery, Royal Horse Artillery

Posted on: 25, March, 2018

Some while ago, whilst looking through a soldier’s papers in series WO 363, I came across two pages which detailed an accident which befell men of V Battery, Royal Horse Artillery at Serny, France on the 2nd March 1915. A Board, held at Croix Barbee on the 15th March, heard evidence from three witnesses, 2nd Lieutenant Wingate Gray, Acting Battery Sergeant Major Morley and Sergeant Watkins. I include extracts from their testimonies, below, followed by a list of the casualties.

2nd Lieutenant Wingate Gray, V Battery, RHA

“… We had successfully fired the mortar three times, and on each occasion we considered the fuse in the bomb was too long. Previous to firing the fourth shot Major Goldie cut the fuse down as short as possible. The plug and the detonator were fixed in the bomb and carefully sealed in with plasticive. The bomb was then loaded in the usual manner. The fuze igniting the charge – about 4″ long, was then lit, and I cautioned those standing round to stand clear. A terrific explosion followed. I realized at once what had happened – viz, a premature in the bore – and saw a number of men wounded on the ground. It was subsequently ascertained that six men were killed outright and seven died of wounds including Major Goldie and 2nd Lieutenant Purchas… I consider the cause of the premature was due to the time fuze in the bomb being cut too short…”

Acting Battery Sergeant Major Morley, V Battery, RHA

“On the 2nd March 1915, about 2pm, the whole battery paraded to see the trench mortar fired. It was successfully fired three times and each time the bomb fell to the ground but did not explode for several seconds. Previous to firing the fourth round, in order to obtain a burst immediately the bomb touched the ground, Major Goldie cut the fuze down as close as possible top the wooden plug… Immediately the fuze reached the powder charge there was a slight report and after a few seconds, thinking that it was a miss-fire, all the men closed in. As soon as they got within a few yards there was a violent explosion and several then fell to the gorund…”

Sergeant Watkins, V Battery, RHA

“The mortar was loaded with the smallest charge on the range table, and the bomb loaded in the usual way. I was standing close by and saw everything that was going on.”

V Battery casualties

Killed outright:

56825 A/Bdr N Fielding, 49261 A/Bdr H Knight, 61508 Shoeing SmithH Nason, 52844 Dvr A Walling, 54638 Gnr C Wade, 53520 Gnr H Lines, 40068 Sgt A Drake

Died of wounds

Major L M Goldie MVO, DSO; 2nd Lt E C Purchas, 51296 Gnr C White, 67915 Dvr F Sellins, 47942 Dvr W Nelham, 17888A/Bdr E Ewing, 69014 Gnr N Chambers

Wounded

51954 Gnr H Gowen, 64167 Gnr J Sivers, 51189 Gnr J Middleton, 38165 Dvr J Parker, 41803  Sgt R Beaver, 53681 A/Bdr J Pole, 43047 Sgt J Perry, 69414 Dvr J Ledger, 51190 A/Bdr C McGrath, 25915 Battery Sergeant Major A Rumley, 67895 Dvr H White, 63108 Gnr W Blaydon, 59532 Dvr G Warner, 51681 Gne A Whiddett, 55807  Dvr R Jarvis, 50415 Dvr C Bishop, 43537 Gnr B Galpin, 50795 Dvr W Thompson, 52808 Dvr R Day, 54923 Dvr G Elmer, 55612 Dvr J Luck, 52838 Gnr F Marchant, 78090 Dvr H Mylam, 2nd Lt P M Hosack

Wounded & rejoined

48150 Gnr G Saville, 63416 Gnr C Calver, 34872 Cpl W Turner, 33655 Sgt W Watkins, 46811 Cpl E Salmon, 57658 Gnr C Long, 88500 Dvr J Clements, 53500 Gnr J Wratten, 40199 Dvr C Christmas, 63342 Dvr B Davis

The portrait photograph of 2nd Lt Purchas appeared in the Illustrated London News edition of the 27th March 1915. I have added the photo to this man’s profile on British Army Ancestors and would be interested to add photos of any of the other men listed above.

3 responses to “V Battery, Royal Horse Artillery”

  1. AidanLines says:

    My Great Uncle was Harry Lines, one of the soldiers killed in this accident.He is buried, along with the other casualties, in the war graves section of the communal cemetery at Aire Sur Lys in the Pas de Calais. I discovered his grave as a result of a chance visit to a nearby cemetery with my children during a chance holiday in the region, which led to an interrogation of the CWGC records for relatives who had died in the Great War, and the discovery of his grave (thank you, CWGC – a fantastic service). I had known that Harry had died in an accident (“had his head blown off” as my grandmother, his sister in law, put it). A professional soldier, he had been very proud of the RHA: “blow out your buttons”, he used to jibe at his brother who was only an ordinary infantryman. How sad that a man who came from humble stock and joined the army to escape poverty should lose his life in an accident of this sort. One always thinks of Great War sacrifice as involving something more than this. Poor Harry really did just have his head blown off in a sort of experiment gone wrong. It took 113 years for a member of his family to find him in France. I shall visit his grave again and hope that my children may, as a real embodiment of the ultimately senseless yet wholly noble sacrifice that was much of the Great War. Thank you to the person who posted this information and allowed me to establish precisely how Harry died. Thank you and RIP, Uncle Harry,

  2. AidanLines says:

    Sorry, didn’ t read through properly. Towards the end, I meant to say “my children may do too, remembering his death as….”

  3. Paul Nixon says:

    Thank you for posting this, Aidan, and RIP Harry and his comrades. We have a duty never to forget.

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