11th (SERVICE) BATTALION, MIDDLESEX REGIMENT
KILLED IN ACTION IN THE BATTLE OF ARRAS
12th MAY 1917, AGED 36
COMMEMORATED : BAY 7, ARRAS MEMORIAL, FAUBOURG-D’AMIENS, FRANCE
CHARLES PERYER was born in Rudgwick in 1880, the son of Thomas and Mary Peryer, and brother of Thomas (born Rudgwick 1872), James (born Rudgwick 1875), Elizabeth (born Rudgwick 1877), Amy (born Rudgwick 1885), Emily (born Rudgwick 1886) and Peter Peryer (born Rudgwick 1889). Charles was baptised in The Holy Trinity Church, Rudgwick on 26th December 1880. By 1901 he was employed in the village as a rural ancillary postman.
Charles married Annie Harding in 1908, and by 1911 Charles was living at No 1 Woodside, Church Street, Rudgwick with his wife and daughter Gladys, who was born in Rudgwick in 1910.
ENLISTMENT AND ACTIVE SERVICE
By early 1915 the numbers of volunteers for military service had begun to dwindle, and by spring it was clear that volunteers could no longer provide the manpower needed to fight a continued war. In July 1915 the National Registration Act was passed to assess the number of men available between the ages of 15 and 65, and to encourage further enlistment. In September the results of the census became available and on 11th October 1915 Lord Derby was appointed Director General of Recruiting. He introduced the‘Derby Scheme’ in an effort to encourage men to volunteer before conscription was fully introduced (27th January 1916). It is likely that Charles enlisted under this scheme in late 1915, when he was 35 years old.
The Derby Scheme offered men the chance to volunteer and choose between either entering service immediately or deferring service until mobilised. The men who deferred were grouped by age and marital status. Each group was given a month’s notice before mobilisation. If Charles enlisted under the Derby Scheme, his age would have placed him in Group 41, with a mobilisation date on or around 29th May 1916 and given the service number G/23390. He would then have undertaken his basic training before being posted overseas.
Following basic training, Charles was sent overseas and assigned to 11th (Service) Battalion, Duke of Cambridge's Own (Middlesex Regiment) (11/Middx), which had been in France on active service since June 1915.
FIRST DAY OF THE BATTLE OF ARRAS
The 11th Bn Middlesex Regiment belonged to 36th Brigade, of the 12th (Eastern) Division. In early 1917 the Division was committed to the Battle of Arras, which opened on 9th April 1917. On the first day of the Battle of Arras, Charles and the men of 11/Middx were at the forefront of the Allied attack, engaging German positions on Observation Ridge, to the east south-east of the town of Arras. This action cost the battalion 6 officers and about 100 other ranks were killed, wounded and missing. A significant proportion of these casualties occurring when, in the afternoon, “a dug-out near Bn HQ blew up (probably a delay-action mine) and about twenty HQ details, including Sgt Harper and all the signallers were killed. Three or four more dug-outs went up shortly afterwards”.
The following day Charles and the men of 11/Middx rested out of the front line before drawing fresh supplies of small arms ammunition, grenades, Very lights and sand bags in preparation for moving back up to the front line on the 11th May.
ATTACKING DEVIL’S TRENCH, NORTH OF MONCHY-LE-PREUX
By 2.30am on the 12th May the battalion had taken up positions to the north of the village of Monchy-le-Preux on the undulating slopes looking down towards the Scarpe River and the Pelves/Roeux area. In their positions near Rifle Farm 11/Middx were the most southerly element of 37th Brigade, with 6/Queen’s to their north and the 8th Battalion King’s Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment) (8/RLancs) of the 3rd Division to their south.
36th Brigade, the southerly element of 12th Division attack on Devil’s Trench
on 12th May 1917. Detail shown below as artillery barrage map.
The 11/Middx held the front line in CHAIN and RIFLE TRENCHES. The day was quiet as the men awaited Zero Hour, set for 6pm. Advancing forwards the battalion came under heavy enemy machine gun and rifle fire from DEVIL’S TRENCH.
11/Middx advance plan, showing artillery barrage lifts as minutes after Zero Hour
The battalion failed to gain its objective, and the situation became obscure. At approximately 7.30pm it was apparent that the battalion had occupied ARROW TRENCH, approximately 30m west of DEVIL’S TRENCH, on the right flank, and a line of shell holes level with it on the left flank. Both flanks of the battalion were ‘in the air’ as they were not in touch with any units to the north or south. To the battalion’s left, apparently the 6/Queen’s had gained their objective, but the Battalion Head Quarters had no information from the 8/RLancs to their right across the Divisional boundary of the attack.
As such, at 8pm defensive flank was formed on the right with a platoon supported with an extra Lewis gun team parallel to and approximately 40m north of BIT LANE. Shortly after this it was learnt that the 8/KLancs had also achieved their objective to the south of Bit Lane, and it was decided that DEVIL’S TRENCH had to be taken ‘at all costs’.
Trench map showing area of 11/Middx attack on 12th May 1917. The junction of HALBERD and CURB TRENCHES is still visible through Google Satellite imagery
(see insert or visit ‘Google Map’)
SECOND ATTACK ON DEVIL’S TRENCH
Following a preliminary bombardment at 9.30pm, coordinated by a Forward Artillery Observation Officer attached to the battalion, ‘B’ Company attacked DEVIL’S TRENCH on the battalion’s left flank at 9.45pm. Once again this attack was repulsed within 30m of the enemy line. As the battalion prepared once again to achieve DEVIL’S TRENCH and link up with the 8/RLancs by a bombing attack on the right flank, information was gained that the objectives had not, in fact been own to the left and right of the battalion (see Battalion War Diary below). The battalion therefore committed to holding the existing British line; ‘A’ Company in ARROW TRENCH, ‘B’ Company in RIFLE TRENCH, ‘C’ Company in HALBERD TRENCH and a forward part of RIFLE TRENCH, and ‘D’ Company in CHAIN TRENCH behind RIFLE FARM. They remained in these positions until relieved by 7th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment at 3am on 14th May 1917.
Aerial Reconnaissance Photograph of the Rifle Farm area north of Monchy-le-Preux
showing Arrow and Devil’s Trenches (separated by approximately 30m at the crossing
of Bit Lane) taken 3 days before the attack. (The mid point on Bit Lane between Devil’s and Arrow Trenches can be viewed at ‘Google Map’)
The Battalion War Diary records that 6 officers had been killed and one wounded in the action, together with 26 other ranks killed, 66 wounded and 20 missing, believed killed, including Private Charles Peryer. (The Commonwealth War Graves Register records 6 officers and 43 other ranks having died on 12/13 May 1917).
Charles’s body was not recovered from the battlefield and formally identified; he is therefore commemorated on the Arras Memorial to the Missing. Charles was posthumously awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.
The Peryer family were to receive more tragic news seven months later when Charles's younger brother, Peter Peryer, died of wounds received in the Battle of Sheria, in Palestine.
1891, 1901, 1911 Census Returns
Soldiers Died in the Great War
Medal Record Cards
Battalion War Diary 11th Bn Middlesex Regiment
Battalion War Diary 8 th Bn King’s Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment)
“12th May 1917: At 6 pm our barrage guns opened a heavy barrage on DEVILS trench. Three Coys, C. B. and D attacked under the barrage but were met by heavy machine gun and rifle fire from the left at the junction of DEVILS TRENCH and BIT LANE, from DEVILS TRENCH in the centre and from AUBERPINES WOOD on the right which stopped the advance causing heavy casualties. When darkness fell the survivors returned to the front line and reorganised under the surviving officers & NCOs. The Suffolk Coy sent up one platoon which occupied the left of the trench. The CO went up to the front line to complete the reorganisation. A Coy pushed out a post along ARROW TRENCH. Casualties 5 officers and 93 other ranks.”