France and Belgium 1915

After returning from India as a sergeant in the 58th Battery RFA in January 1914, Ernest spent the rest of that year in an Artillery Reserve Brigade at Newcastle. He was promoted Battery Sergeant Major in November and became a Warrant Officer, Class II, in January 1915. On 9 February 1915, he was posted to the Divisional Ammunition Column (DAC) of the 6th Division in France. This Division was part of the original British Expeditionary Force and it reached France in September 1914, after the battle of Mons. He served as a Warrant Officer until 6 May 1915 when he was commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery.

In 'A Short History of the 6th Division', T.O. Marden wrote: "...on 12 March 1915, operations by the North Staffs Regiment resulted in the inclusion of the unsavoury L'Epinette salient in our line - the trench casualties from sniping and enemy shell-fire were quite considerable. We had practically no artillery ammunition with which to worry the enemy".

6th DAC would not have been a popular unit with the shell-starved artillery batteries. Ernest may not have known this but the master general of ordnance, at the War Office, who was ultimately responsible for the provision of the shells so urgently needed at the front, was Major General Sir Stanley von Donop. In the Boer War, Ernest had served in mobile columns commanded by the then Col. von Donop in the Western Transvaal and twice they were ambushed by Boer commandos. In one of those attacks, Ernest's unit, the 4th Battery RFA, lost its guns and Ernest himself was takenprisoner. Lloyd George's parliamentary private secretary at the Ministry of Munitions, Christopher Addison, said of von Donop that he was 'either incompetent or a traitor. I am inclined to the latter view". The master general's Teutonic name did not help.

Ernest's elder brother, Charles, was Regimental Sergeant Major of the 2nd Brigade RFA in 1912. The brigade was stationed at Cahir in Ireland.

 It left immediately to become part of the Divisional Artillery of 6th Division (the same Division Ernest was to join six months later). The 2nd Brigade was first in action in France in September at the Aisne and then at the battle of Armentiéres in Ocotober 1914. The Division remained in the neighbourhood of Armentiéres until 31 May 1915 and during this period it suffered 10 000 casualties. Charles was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant on 6 December 1914. He, too, had experience of L'Epinette. On the day of hs promotion, the War Diaries of the 2nd Brigade recorded that "21st battery fired at a house at the crossroads at L'Epinette which contained snipers". The village remained on the front line until 1918.

The brothers overlapped in 6th Dvision for about a month. Charles left France in March 1915 in a state of exhaustion after seven months of continuous engagement in the battle zone; he was sent home to recuperate and later became an instructor to an Artillery Reserve Brigade stationed in Ireland. He was then 42 years old. He received the 1914-15 Star for his services on the Western Front.

After Charles's move to Ireland, he was only to fire a gun once more. This was a field gun on the streets of Dublin in the Easter Rising of 1916.

He retired from the army in 1919 as a Lieutenant. Before he did so, he had the satisfaction of seeing his eldest son Arthur Charles who was commissioned into the Indian Army in 1917, serve in Palestine as part of General Allenby's triumphant Egyptian Expeditionary Force. Likewise, his son Arthur, spent the war in India with the Royal Garrison Artillery. He retired from the army in 1921 as a captain. Leonard, the youngest brother, had joined the army in 1911 at the age of 24, after being an engine fitter in civilian life. During the war he served with the Royal Engineers in Malta, Egypt and Salonika. He left the army in 1919 as a sapper, on health grounds. His medical report stated: "20 percent disability due to malaria contracted in Salonika in 1917". His service record has been lost; only his medical documents have survived amonst the "burnt documents" at the PRO. He later emigrated to Australia.

On 31 May 1915, the 6th Division moved 15 miles north from Armentiéres into Flanders and took up its new fronot in the Ypres salient, a notoriously dangerous area; trench casualties for the Division doubled immediately. The 6th DAC moved into billets on the Poperinghe-Vlamertinghe road a few miles west of the town of Ypres. The timing of the move was nevertheless fortunate for the 6th Division since the battle of 2nd Ypres in April-May had just ended and the front was now relatively quiet. The official historian described the battle, where the Germans had used chlorine gas for the first time in the war, as being "for its size, one of the most murderous battles of the war". The Germans gained a small part of the Salient and both sides suffered horrendous numbers of casualties.

The 6th DAC was responsible for the provision of ammunition to the Division's fighting troops. In June 1915, there was little or no offensive British action taking place on the 6th Division's section of the front. According to 6th DAC's War Diary only 7 400 eighteen-pounder shells were supplied to the 50-60 field guns in the Division for the whole of June. This amounted to an average rate of firing of less than 5 shells per day per gun. In an aggressive barrage in support of an infantry attack, each field gun would have been expected to fire at a rate of up to 20 rounds per hour for a prolonged period.

In July 1915, Ernest left 6th DAC on being posted to a combatant unit, 62nd Battery, 3rd Brigade RFA, 28th Division. The Division had played an active part in 2nd Ypres in April-May before Ernest joined it and its casualties of 15 533, all ranks, were the highest of any British Division. It remained in the vicinity of St Eloi and Wytschaete until September. During the months after the main battle, 62nd Battery played its part in holding the line by regularly shelling the German trenches. In September, 28th Division was relieved in the front line by a Canadian Division and on 23 September marched south west of Ypres to new billets in the region of Croix de Poperinghe, between Locre and Meteren. It was moving south to participate in the later staages of one of the major battles on the Western Front in 1915, the Battle of Loos (24 September - 8 October), followed by Macedonia, The Struma Front and Doiran during the period 1916-1918..

Military Cross: Ernest George Dickens

Ernest's service record describes his 'Overseas Services' as:

France and Belgium   February 1915    -     November 1915

Egypt                       5 November        -     9 November 1915

Greek Macedonia      December 1915  -  11 November 1918

Ernest remained with 62nd Battery RFA in the Salonika area until posted on 13 March 1919 to 54th FAB (54th Field Artillery Brigade, part of 28th Division). Just before his leaving them, 62nd Battery had won the final of the second echelon of the 28th Divisional Football Tournament at Guvezne, a camp between Salonika and Lahana.He retired from the Army at Aldershot on 16 November 1920 but remained in contact with Salonika veterans afterwards.

 

 

Medals awarded to E.G. Dickens 1914 - 1919

Military Cross, 1914/15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal

Mentioined in Despatches 26 July 1917 and 6 June 1919

Many years after the end of Ernest in combat, he told his sons that he had never been wounded during his military service but ... a horse once rolled on him and cracked some ribs!  On another occasion, he rode into a head high rope at night and, in Salonika, a large shell had hit his dug-out destroying his kit, including his binoculars and revolver, but not him because he was out at the time! His most severe war injury occurred when he fell off a motor cycle while serving with the anti-aircraft defences in the Second World War and did permanent damage to his right knee.

 The Mons Star - Charles Henry Dickens

The first British campaIgn medal of the Great War, the 1914 STAR was struck in 1917. It was awarded to those who served in France and Belgium ono the strength of a unit between 5 August and 30 November 1914. It was restricted to the Army and the Air Squadrons of the Royal Flying Corps who served in France and Flanders during the qualifying period. In october, 1919, King George V instituted a bar to the medal for the holders who 'had been under fire in France and Belgium between the qualifying dates'; the words 'under fire' being defined as 'within range of enemy mobile artillery'. The unofficial name of the award is the so-called 'Mons Star'.

The Mons Star and bar shown below is a photograph of the actual medal awarded to 2nd Lieutenant Charles Henry Dickens who fought in France with the 2nd Brigade, RFA during the Autumn of 1914 (and survived). Fewer than 230 000 bars were awarded. Most were given to members of the first seven Regular Army infantry divisions who went to France and Flkanders in the early months of the war - the so called 'Old Contemptibles'. By the end of November 1914, total British and Indian casualties were 89 864. The Official History of the war reported 'The greater paart of this loss had fallen on the infantry of the first seven divisions which originally numbered only 84 000'. This startling figure represented the virtual destruction of the old British Regular Army in four  months of fighting the Germans.

EPILOGUE

2nd Lieut. CH Dickens remained in France and Flanders until April 1915. He spent much of the remainder of the war in Reserve and Training Units in Ireland. He was promoted to First Lieut. in December 1915 and retired from the army in November

1919. The picture above shows him demonstrating equestrian skills that year at East Grinstead.

Ben Dickens was wounded near Ypres in 1914 whilst serving with 2/Royal Warwicks, 22nd Infantry Brigade, 7th Division. His father, George Dickens

received an upsetting telegram:

'Regret to inform you that 8468, Ben Dickens, Royal Warwicks is dangerously ill at 12th General Hospital, Rouen'

Fortunately, Ben recovered from his gunshot wounds, was returned to England and later discharged from the army. He received the 1914 Star and Bar.

Charles' younger brother, Sgt Major Ernest G Dickens RFA joined the Divisional Ammunition Column of 6th Division in February 1915 and was stationed at l'Epinette.

Within a few miles of where Charles and Ben Dickens were fighting the Germans at 1st Ypres, two well-known figures were involved on opposing sides in the autumn of 1914.

They were Ronald Colman of the London Scottish (Territorials) fighting at Messines Ridge and Corporal Adolf Hitler of the German army, fighting at Wytschaete.

The first received the Mons Star and went on to become a famous film actor; the second was awarded the Iron Cross for bravery and, unfortunately, retained a lifelong enthusiasm for military conquest.

 

Dickens-Thomsett

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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