ARTHUR ALBERT GRINSTEAD was born in Rudgwick in 1889, the son of George & Clara Grinstead and brother to George (born Rudgwick 1891), Kate (born Rudgwick 1894) and Clara (born Rudgwick 1897).
In 1901 the family were living in Barnsfold Lane, Rudgwick and by 1911 they had moved to 6 Baynards Cottages, Baynards. At this time George senior was a ‘horseman on farm’ and Albert a ‘farm labourer’, so it is likely they were employed on the Baynards Estate.
Albert enlisted for service in Petworth, and became Private 2815 Royal Sussex Regiment, giving his residence as Billingshurst. It appears that his personal records were destroyed in the Blitz of the Second World War, but analysis of men joining the Royal Sussex Regiment with service numbers similar to Albert’s indicates that he enlisted in the last months of 1914.
TO FRANCE WITH THE BRITISH EXPEDITIONARY FORCE
Albert’s Medal Record Card notes that he arrived in France with Royal Sussex Regiment on 24th July 1915. It is probable, therefore, that he was initially posted to the regiment’s 8th Battalion, which landed in France on that date.
The 8th (Service) Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment (8/Sussex) was created as a part of Lord Kitchener’s New Armies, manned by men answering the call for volunteers. In October 1914 the battalion moved to Colchester to join 54th Brigade of the 18th (Eastern) Division and on 4th February 1915 they were designated the Pioneer Battalion of the 18th (Eastern) Division. Prior to their move to France the battalion had moved to Salisbury Plain in May 1915.
Once the disembarkation and concentration of 18th Division was complete, its units moved to the Somme front, which in August 1915 was a quiet section of the line. They were to remain in the area into the summer of 1916 and were involved in the attack on Montauban on 1st July 1916, the opening day of the Battle of the Somme.
TRANSFER TO 9TH BATTALION ESSEX REGIMENT
It seems likely that Albert’s transfer to the 9th Battalion Essex Regiment (9/Essex) was brought about following a return to England. Many wounded soldiers who returned to the United Kingdom were subsequently transferred to other battalions and regiments on their return to France, generally necessitated by the requirements of the front line units.
The 9/Essex had formed at Warley in 1914, another of Kitchener’s ‘New Army’ battalions. It became an element of 35th Brigade of 12th (Eastern) Division. The unit had landed in France at Boulogne on 15th May 1915.
GERMAN SPRING OFFENSIVE – 21ST MARCH 1918
Russia had exited the conflict on 3rd March 1918 with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, releasing German forces from their commitment on the Eastern Front. The German High Command believed the British Army to be close to exhaustion after its efforts in the Battles of Arras, Ypres and Cambrai in 1917. These factors, coupled with the impending arrival of the immense materiel and fresh man power resources of the USA resulted in the German High Command initiating a Spring Offensive against the Allied forces in France, designed to eliminate the cross channel influence before the might of the US Army could be brought to bear on the European battlefields.
On 21st March 1918 the offensive, Operation Michael, was launched against the British Expeditionary Force from the defensive position of the Hindenburg Line, to which the German Army had withdrawn after the Somme battle of 1916. It was to advance rapidly across the old 1916 battlefield, eventually being fought to a standstill near the town of Amiens on 5th April 1918.
On the day the Spring Offensive commenced, 9/Essex had just been relieved from the front line near Bois Grenier and on the 24th March had route marched to Miquellerie for a rest period. Six hours after they arrived the order came to embark onto buses and return to the front. The 70 mile journey ended with a short rest at Bouzincourt, near Albert, before the battalion was ordered to Fricourt, which they nearly reached when orders were received to return to Albert.
On 26th March 12th (Eastern) Division arrived to the north west of the town of Albert. 35th Brigade (with 9/Essex) adopted a position covering Albert, with 36th Brigade to their left on the western bank of the River Ancre.
The lack of prepared trenches and wire required that the men of the division rely upon the natural lines of defence, such as the river and the railway embankment to the north of Albert.
The men of the 12th Division caught a first sight of the advancing German forces just after midday on the 26th, on the slopes of the Ancre valley. By 1900hrs the 7/Suffolks had been forced out of the ruins of Albert and the town was in German hands. To the north and the south the Division was threatened to be outflanked.
On the 27th March the men of 9/Essex received the first attack by the advancing Germans at 0800hrs. The attack was preceded by an intense barrage whilst the Germans assembled in the station yard of Albert before advancing. This was beaten back, and repeated later in the morning, again with little success. Through the day the battalion was strafed by low flying triplanes, apparently of Von Richofen’s ‘Circus’ which were also seen to down five British aircraft.
12th (Eastern) Division position, 26th March 1918
The situation was described in a letter by Lieutenant J N Wreford Brown of 9/Essex written after he was admitted into hospital in Rouen having been wounded in the neck:
“Wounded slightly in head, back of neck. We had had a bad time of it. After we had been relieved at Bois Grenier we were rushed up in motor buses at 7 o’clock in evening to the Somme for arrival at 9 o’clock, the whole Brigade and were two days rations (iron), after two days rest we marched to Fricourt we were then sent to Contalmaison then back to Albert where we spent night, we then took up a line behind Albert.
I was sent with my company to help Norfolk’s who had a gap in their line, we held the railway embankment. The 30th Brigade on our right started to retire, we extended as far as we could to cover gap but in half an hour there was a general retirement all along. We had no reserve of SAA* left except what we had collected from casualties.”
*Small Arms Ammunition.
The Commonwealth War Graves Register notes that on the 27th March around Albert 9/Essex lost seven men killed in action, one of which was Private Albert Grinstead. It is indicative of the action on the day that six of the seven men (including Albert) have no known grave and are commemorated on the Pozieres Memorial. The Battalion War Diary notes that 4 officers and 128 other ranks were reported killed wounded or missing when the battalion was relieved on 28th March.
The Pozieres Memorial covers the period from March 1918 when the Fifth Army was driven back by the German Spring Offensive to the initiation of the Allied ‘Advance to Victory’, the counter offensive which began on 8th August 1918. It commemorates 14,699 men who fell in this period and have no know final resting place.
Albert Grinstead was posthumously awarded the 1915 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. He is commemorated on the Loxwood War Memorial and the Rudgwick War Memorial.
Poiziers Memorial, Somme, France
Photo with kind permission of Pierre Vandervelden www.inmemories.com
1901 1911 Census Returns
Medal Record Index Cards
Soldiers Died in the Great War
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Essex Units in the War 1914-1919 J W Burrows