Sunday, 7 December 2014

Alfred Samuel Ford 1885 -1916 Killed in Action

The  third child of eight, Private Alfred Samuel Ford was born in Ireland in 1885. He was the second son of Alice and George Ford. He grew up in Co. Donegal, Ireland at  the Ball Hill Coastguard and Aranmore Coastguard stations where his father was posted. Returning to England with his family he gained employment in Newhaven as a seaman perfoming dredging work for the LHSC Railway. 

With the start of the World War he enlisted with the 13th Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment. The SD “South Downs” prefix  at the beginning of his regimental number SD3101 indicates he was one of the original enlistments to the Battalions formed by Lt Col Claude Lowther MP enlisting December/January 1914/5.  Men from all over Sussex joined the “Lowthers Lambs” up to mid 1915. Samuel's Battalian began training at Cooden Camp near Bexhill. The Battalion  crossed to France from Witley camp from 5/6 March 1916 and served in the Fleurbaix and Festubert sectors before taking over the trenches fighting the Germans at Richebourg.

On 25/3/1916 he wrote to his brother Sid who was living in Sydney, Australia of his arrival in France.

”It is not very grand here what with the weather and one thing and another, still we must keep smiling”

Private Alfred Samuel Ford was awarded the Military Medal on 13th June 1916  just days before his death.  
13 June  1916
Awards for Gallant Conduct
the Brigadier General commanding has much pleasure in announcing to all ranks of the brigade the following awards for Gallant conduct: --

Number 3101 Private Alfred Samuel Ford
13th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment
Military Medal

The following is a description of the action for which this award was made as taken from a dispatch written by his Lieutenant Colonel.
The copy of the letter of recommendation for the Military Medal
Number 4645 Private Meylam and number 3101 Private Ford AS were working in the front of our parapet on the night of the 23rd/24th of April. Machine-gun fire was opened on them and Private Baylen was wounded in the right ankle. Private Ford shouted to the men in the trench for help and No. 3930 Private (Thomas) Belcombe and No. 4169 Private ( Wallace Thomas Taylor immediately went over the parapet. The machine-gun ......  
very few seconds keeping on the...... collapse.

Between them they got Private Meylam to the top of the parapet, when Privates Ford and Belcombe got down inside our trench and the three of them lowered the wounded man onto a machine-gun emplacement on the safe side of the parapet. At this moment the machine-gun opened again on our parapet and Private Taylor who was still on the enemy side of the parapet realising that if he jumped over he might hurt the wounded man rolled down to the bottom of the parapet and waited until the machine guns ceased fire when he got over the parapet and helped to dress Meylan's  wounds.
I consider the act of these three men to be one of great courage and I are accordingly bring their names to notice.

Signed FGW Briffen  Lt-Col
Commanding 13th Battalion Sussex Regiment

This medal surfaced through some family history investigations.  One of his great nephews in Australia  holds the letter of recommendation and another in England  unearthed the medal and claeaned it up believing it to belong to someone else.

 On 30th June 1916 Alfred was killed in action in northern France  aged 32. The battle was known as the Battle at the Boar's Head at Richebough.

"The South Downs units lost 360 killed and more than 1,100 wounded in this fruitless action"

Here is an account from the Regiment’s diary on the date Alfred lost his life.. War Diary

30 June: Report on Operations.
1. The Battalion assembled at 1:30pm on the morning of 30 June in readiness for the assault with all 4 Platoons of each Company in the front line.
2. The preliminary bombardment on the morning of the attack opened at 2:50am and at 3.05am the leading wave of the battalion scaled the parapet, the remainder following at 50 yards interval. At the same time the flank attack under Lieutenants Whitley and Ellis gained a footing in the enemy trench. The passage across no man's land was accomplished with few casualties except in the left companies, which came under very heavy machine-gun fire. The two right companies succeeded in reaching the objective but the two left companies only succeeded in penetrating the enemy's wire in one or two places. Just at this moment as smoke cloud, which was originally designed to mask our advance, drifted right across the front and made it impossible to see more than a few yards ahead. This resulted in all direction being lost and the attack devolving into small bodies of men not knowing which way to go. Some groups succeeded in entering the support line, engaging the enemy with bombs and bayonets and organising the initial stages of a defence. Other parties swung off to the right and entered the trench where the flanking party was operating, causing a great deal of congestion. On the left the smoke and darkness made the job of penetrating the enemy wire so difficult that few if any succeeded in reaching the enemy trench. Some parties of the right company succeeded in reaching the enemy support line when they were subjected to an intense bombardment with HE and whizzbangs. Captain Hughes, who was wounded, seeing that his company was in danger of being cut off, gave the order for the evacuation of the enemy trenches and the remainder of the attacking force returned to our trenches. The enemy who was evidently thoroughly prepared now concentrated his energies on the front line and for the space of about two and a half hours our front and support lines were subjected to an intense bombardment with a bit heavy and light shells causing a large... [The diary disappears here and does not start again until after the attack].
The Sussex' attack is not mentioned in the British Official History of the war, no doubt being more concerned with the very much greater events taking place on the Somme on 1 July 1916. The South Downs units lost 360 killed and more than 1,100 wounded in this fruitless action, the intention of which was to distract the enemy from the Somme, pin down his reserves and improve the local tactical situation.

His body was never found.

Loos Memorial

At Dud Corner Cemetery in Pas de Calais, France there is a memorial to commemorate men killed in action at the Battle of Boar's Head  (panel 69-73.)

Because of the local nature of the recruitment the heavy casualties and wounded  on 30th June 1916 at the Battle of Boar’s Head  Richebourg  were particularly  hard felt by Sussex families.  One website quotes it as “the day Sussex died”.  After the War, Newhaven residents  built  a Memorial to their fallen heros…….

Thought of the Day:
Family history connections through Ancestry  and Genes Reunited Trees have resulted in the remembrance of Samuel and the recovery of the provenance of his medal and the recommendation. Samuel died childless and unmarried. His brother Sid in Australia kept his letters and his sister Beatrice in England became custodian of the medals. 100 years later against all odds they are being cared for and preserved  rather than on the scrap heap.

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