ERNEST CHARLES RANCE was born in Windlesham, Surrey in September 1886, the son of Robert and Sophia Rance, and brother of Henry Rance (born c1873), Albert Rance (born c 1875), Robert Rance (born c1877), George Rance (born c1878), Sophia Rance (born c1880), William Rance (born c1881), Mary Anne Minnie Rance (born c1888), Ellen Rance (born c1890), Thomas David Rance (born May 1893), Harriet Rance (born c1895) and Oliver Rance (born c1896). The family lived in ‘The Folly’, Lightwater, Bagshot, Camberley, Surrey.
On 5th September 1914 Ernest married Mabel Wait, their marriage being registered in Guildford. On 14th November 1914 Mabel gave birth to their first son, Albert Charles Rance, in Bucks Green, Rudgwick.
ENLISTMENT IN THE BRITISH ARMY
It appears from Ernest’s service number, 6265, that he enlisted in Horsham in December 1915, when he was 29 years old. 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 Ernest enlisted under this scheme.
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 Ernest enlisted under the Derby Scheme, his age would have placed him in Group 35, with a mobilisation date on 29th May 1916. He reported to the Royal Sussex Regiment Depot in Chichester (serving as Charles Rance) and was posted to the 14th (Reserve) Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment for basic training.
ACTIVE SERVICE WITH THE BRITISH EXPEDITIONARY FORCE
When his basic training was complete Ernest was posted overseas for active service. At this stage of the war, and due to the withering losses of the Battle of the Somme which had been raging since 1st July 1916, many of the British Army battalions were under strength. Reinforcements and men who had recovered from previous injuries who arrived in France were unlikely to remain with their original regiments. It appears that on arrival in France Ernest was transferred to the 10th (Service) Battalion Royal Fusiliers and issued the new service number of GS/61861. His new service number suggests that this took place on 28th November 1916, and he joined the battalion on 30th November whilst they were resting in Puchevillers, west of the Somme battlefield.
On 18th November 1916 Ernest’s elder brother, William, who was serving as Private 15746 with the 7th Battalion Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment) was killed in action in the Battle of the Somme during an attack on Desire Trench, near Grancourt. He was 35 years old, and laid to rest in Stump Road Cemetery, Grandcourt, Somme France.
The 10th (Service) Battalion Royal Fusiliers (10/RF) was part of the 111th Brigade 37th Division, which had landed at Boulogne on 30th July 1915. It was one of the New Army battalions, or ‘Kitchener’s Battalions’ raised in August 1914 in the City of London, and unofficially referred to as the ‘stockbrokers’ battalion due to the original employment of many of the early members of the unit. In December 1916, after Ernest had joined, the battalion moved north and spent Christmas Day in the front line trenches near Neuve Chapelle.
On 27th February 1917 Edwin’s younger brother Thomas David Rance (Private G/62785) died of wounds whilst serving with the 7th Battalion Royal Fusiliers. He was buried in the Ancre British Cemetery, Beaumont-Hamel, Somme, France.
Between the 14th March and the 5th April the German Army had executed Operation Alberich, a strategic withdrawal to their prepared position, the Hindenburg Line. In response the allied armies moved forwards to maintain contact, occupying the former German positions.
On 2nd March 1917 10/RF had been relieved from the trenches near Hulluch. On the 4th the 111th Brigade commenced a 40 mile march from Mazingarbe south west via Labeuvriere, Ecquedecques, Marest to Buneville, arriving on the 10th. The Battalion War Diary reported:
“The Division is concentrated in the area around Roellecourt for training. During the whole march from Hulluch trenches, only 2 men fell out on line of march - and that on the first day and in a snowstorm - thus the Battalion’s record as the best marching battalion in 37th Division is still unchallenged, the second best being the only of the R.F. Battalion in the Division.”
CONTINUED TRAINING IN FRANCE
The men of the battalion were accommodated in barns in Buneville, sleeping on wire beds that were arranged in tiers of three. New instructions had been received on how companies would be arranged into platoons and sections when in action. These were based on G.H.Q letter O.B./1919, dated 7th February 1917, which introduced the guiding principle that platoons should consist of a combination of all of the weapons the infantry battalion were equipped with, and that specialist commanders within the Infantry unit were undesirable due to the impact of them becoming casualties.
Using S.S.144 ‘The Normal Formation for the Attack’ the men of 111th Brigade familiarised themselves with this new approach to offensive warfare which swapped the concept of lines of advancing infantry supported by specialist sections for that of the advance in independent platoons each comprising of a section riflemen, one of hand grenade throwers, another armed with rifle grenades and a fourth with a Lewis machine gun.
The sections were to advance in ‘artillery formation’, a diamond with the rifle section to the front, the hand and rifle grenade sections to the flanks (with the hand grenade section on the flank closest to the enemy) and the Lewis machine gun section supporting from the rear.
The men of 10/RF organised and practised this tactical advance, with two platoons being used to demonstrate the set piece action to the remainder of the battalion on 13th March. This demonstration was repeated on 19th March for the Brigade and Divisional Commanders. The training was preparation for the men’s role in the forthcoming offensive around the town of Arras.
INTO THE BATTLE OF ARRAS
On 5th April 1917 the battalion left Buneville and began to march towards the front line east of Arras, via Izel-les-Hameau, Duisans and then bivouacs near Louez, where fighting stores were issued to the men. Their destination was to be the new British front line east of Arras between La Chapelle de Feuchy and Monchy-le-Preux.
On the 9th April 1917, the first day of the Battle of Arras, the Battalion War Diary records that the battalion:
“Left bivouacs at 4.30am, marched via St Catherine’s and Arras, at the latter place our first casualties occurred, owing to enemy shelling near Railway Bridge at point G28b9.6. Moved forward to British original front line , south of Railway in G24c, Hot tea was issued to the Battalion, the cookers having moved forward to G29a6.8 At 12 noon the Railway Bridge G28b9.6 was blown up by an explosion of one of our ammunition dumps caused by enemy shell falling ion it. About 1 pm moved forward to the Brown Line, no hostile shelling or opposition till this point was reached when heavy Machine Gun fire prevented further progress. During the day the weather was fine and sunny but snow fell at night.”
The battalion lost 11 men on 9th April; seven appear on the Arras Memorial, one is buried in Feuchy Chapel British Cemetery and three (including Ernest Charles Rance) are buried in the Faubourg D’Amiens Cemetery, Arras, It is likely, therefore that Ernest and these three men were killed by the German artillery fire that the battalion encountered near the railway bridge in Arras (see ‘Google Map’), as they moved forwards towards the British lines during the early hours of the 9th April.
On the 10th April 10/RF, without Ernest, joined the battle. The Battalion War Diary records:
“At 4 am the Battalion withdrew to Feuchy Chapel. About 10 am moved to Brown Line by Railway. Advanced under slight enemy artillery fire and Machine Gun fire until checked by intense M.G. Fire about 600 yards west of Monchy-le-Preux. Our casualties by this time were fairly heavy. Lt Col Rice was badly wounded by shrapnel in right arm at this point. The Battalion dug in for the night and reorganised and collected together stragglers.”
In Rudgwick Ernest’s daughter, Mary Elizabeth Rance, was born in 1917, never to know her father. Further tragedy was to visit Ernest’s parents, Robert and Sophia, who lost a fourth son, Private Oliver Rance, to illness whilst serving overseas in Mesopotamia. He had been serving with 1st/5th Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment) and died on 19th May 1917. He was buried in the Basra War Cemetery, Iraq.
* William Rance (born c1881) Private 15746 7th Bn Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment) Killed in Action attacking Desire Trench, near Grandcourt 18/11/1916. Buried Stump Road Cemetery, Grandcourt, Somme France. (For more information on this action see Private John Frederick Scammell, of Ewhurst, Surrey).
* Thomas David Rance (born May 1893) Private GS/62785 7th Bn Royal Fusiliers Died of Wounds 27/02/1917. Buried Ancre British Cemetery, Beaumont-Hamel, Somme, France. Originally served at home as 1387 in the 5th (Territorial) Bn Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment) from 23/05/1911 until 23/05/1916 (termination of service). Believed to have re enlisted for further service.
* Oliver Rance (born c1896) Private T/243593 5/RWSR died whilst serving overseas 19/05/1917. Buried Basra War Cemetery, Iraq.
Buried Plot VI.G.42
Soldier’s Medal Records
Soldiers Died in the Great War
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Personal Service Record of Alfred M Scrase, 6263 Royal Sussex Regiment.
Service Pension Record of Cpl Frederick Isaac Hall Stephens GS/61863, 10/RF