MAURICE EDWARD NAPPER was born in Rudgwick in 1887, the son of James and Catherine Napper and brother of James Rufus (born Rudgwick 1873(see (1)), Albert Ernest (born Rudgwick 1875 died 1897), Sarah Ann (born Rudgwick 1876), Robert Charles (born Rudgwick 1877), Frank Oliver (born Rudgwick 1878), Louisa Catherine (born Rudgwick 1879), Thomas William (born Rudgwick 1880), Elizabeth Emily (born Rudgwick 1882), Caleb Enos (born Rudgwick 1888 (see (2)) and Christopher Percy (born Rudgwick 1891).
In 1891 the family lived at Collins Cross, Rudgwick and by 1901 had moved to Barnsfold Lane, Rudgwick. By 1911 they were living at Greenhurst, in Tismans Common. Maurice worked as a labourer on a farm. In 1912 he married Edith A Holder (registered Petworth June 1912).
Maurice's personal service records appear to have been destroyed by enemy action during the Second World War, however, surviving records indicate that he enlisted for service on 3rd September 1914 at Hurstpierpoint, to serve in the Royal Sussex Regiment. Having travelled to the regimental depot in Chichester Maurice was posted to the 7th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment (7/Sussex).
1914 Newspaper Recruiting Article
In August 1914 Lord Kitchener, the the Secretary of State for War, appealed for civilian volunteers to step forwards for service, it having been realised that the existing Regular Army would prove insufficient for a prolonged conflict on mainland Europe. The men were to serve in new battalions of existing army regiments, often referred to as Kitchener's Battalions, the first 100,000 men creating a 'New Army'.
The 7th (Service) Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment was the first Kitchener's battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment. Recruiting had begun at Chichester on 12th August 1914. An eyewitness at the regimental depot described the scene at the regimental depot as being: "filled beyond capacity with recruits and more arriving every few hours... all joyfully expecting to be immediately issued with rifle and bayonet and sent to France."
The recruits were given service numbers starting with the letter G and ranging from 1 to approximately 1200. Maurice received the service number G/1060, and so was relatively late in the completion of the battalion. The battalion moved to Sobroan Barracks at Colchester, becoming part of 26th Brigade, 12th (Eastern) Division, before moving again in October 1914 to Shorncliffe in Kent and then onto Folkestone in December.
In lead up to serving overseas the battalion moved to Ramillies Barracks, Aldershot, in March 1915. On the 31st May 1915 they moved across the Channel from Folkestone Pier aboard the S.S. 'Victoria' to join the British Expeditionary Force, landing at Boulogne the following day.
Maurice and the 7/Sussex participated in the Battle of Loos (25th September to 8th October 1015) and in the subsequent actions at the HOHENZOLLERN REDOUBT between 13th and 19th October 1915. They were taken out of the line and on 31st October practised attacks upon a section of trenchline that had been created to resemble the area to the northern flank of the HOHENZOLLERN REDOUBT, around LITTLE WILLIE trench.
On 2nd November the 7/Sussex returned to the front line opposite LITTLE WILLIE however their main enemy appears to have been the weather. Over the next ten days in the trenches trench foot became an issue amongst the men and the Battalion War Diary reports that "whale oil and anti frost bite were in constant use and large supplies of dry new socks were used". It appears that the trenches that the battalion held during this period were dug only the week before and lacked duck boards and dugouts. Hence the men spent their entire time in water and liquid mud. In ten days nearly 200 men were removed from duty due to trench foot and rheumatism.
On 12th November the battalion was relieved and moved north through Bethune to St Hillaire Cottes for a rest before returning to the front line near Festubert on 10th December 1915. In this area the high water table prevented trenches being dug and the battalion held a series of numbered islands in a sea of water and mud, known as 'keeps'. The keeps were relieved under the cover of darkness every 48 hours. On the 23rd the unit moved south to the Givenchy sector, north of the La Bassee Canal ( which approximately marked the northern boundary of the Loos battlefield). The following day, Christmas Eve, the Germans detonated a defensive mine very close to the British front line, burying a number of men. Three men were killed and 23 wounded. Six days later a second mine was detonated in the same position, killing a further two men and injuring another three. The Battalion War Diary describes how "There are now so many craters that it is difficult to distinguish one from the other."
In the third week of January 1916 the battalion was taken out of the line to Ham en Artois for a long rest which included, on the 20th January, an inspection by General Joffre, Chief of the French General Staff. By 12th February the men from Sussex were back in the front line facing the Hohenzollern Redoubt. The area had changed significantly since they last held the line here in November, most of the Redoubt having been replaced by mine craters and the British front line now running approximately along the WEST FACE trenchline.
Elements of the 36th Brigade attacked the Redoubt on 2nd March 1916, following the explosion of four British mines. This was answered on the night of 3/4th March when the Germans endeavoured to mount an attack against the 7/Sussex but this was repelled by heavy fire, although at the cost of 3 officers and 27 men killed or died of wounds, 7 officers and 181 men wounded, and 2 men missing.
British Trench map (June 1916) showing Hohenzollern Redoubt & Craters in top left corner, scene of actions
of 2nd-6th March 1916. See detail of Quarries below.
At 9am on 17th March 1916 the 7/Sussex relieved the 8th Battalion Royal Fusiliers in ALEXANDER and BROOKWOOD trenches, facing the German lines around the quarries west of Cite St Elie. The relief was completed by 12.45pm. Considerable enemy trench mortar fire was directed at the battalions lines behind HAIRPIN CRATERS. Retaliatory artillery fire was attempted but it was found that the enemy mortar was in a very awkward position behind the crater mounds. The Battalion War Diary reports that Lt Stanley George Simmins and five other ranks were wounded.
Hairpin Craters (June 1916). 7/Sussex held
Alexander & Brookwood Trenches on 17th March 1916
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission and Soldiers Died in the Great War note that two men of 7/Sussex were killed in action on 17th March 1916; Private Maurice Edward Napper, from Rudgwick and Corporal William George Stenner, G/904 from Binfield Heath. It is likely, therefore, that these two men were killed by the enemy trench mortar bombardment near to HAIRPIN CRATERS. Cpl Stenner and Maurice were laid to rest in Vermelles British Cemetery, almost side by side.
Maurice was posthumously awarded the 1915 Star, The British War Medal and the Victory Medal.
IN EVER LOVING MEMORY
FROM YOUR LOVING
WIFE AND CHILDREN
(1) James Rufus Napper served as 12682 of 2nd Coy, Army Service Corps (source 1918 Absent Votes List)
(2) Caleb Enos Napper served as Pte 536228 of 696th Agricultural Coy, Labour Corps (source 1918 Absent Votes List)
Soldiers Died in the Great War
Battalion War Diary
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Soldier's Medal Record Cards
Service record of Pte Charles Henry Churchill, G/1072, 7th Bn Royal Sussex Regiment
The Long Long Trail (internet)