7th (Service) Battalion, The Buffs (East Kent Regiment).

Born Saturday 23 December 1899   Died Tuesday 6 August 1918. Aged 19.

Son of Henry William Webb and of Mrs. Louisa Webb (née Dye) of The Royal Oak, Dover Road, Capel-le-Ferne, Dover, Kent.

Commemorated on the Pozières Memorial, Somme, France. Panel 16 and on the Church Hougham, Dover, Kent civic war memorial, also in The Buffs Book of Life in the Warriors Chapel, Canterbury Cathedral, Kent.

Depending on which records or data sources are accessed, the first christian name of this casualty is shown as Stewart or Stuart. There can be many reasons why a person’s name is spelled in different ways on official records, one being the the individual was not literate so the spelling was left to the recorder. Either way, Stewart/Stuart was born at Park Cottage, Aldington on Saturday 23 December 1899, and has the unfortunate distinction of being the youngest of the Aldington, Bonnington or Hurst Great War casualties to lose their life. Stuart did not reside in Aldington for very long. His father, South Mimms, Hertfordshire native Henry William Webb was employed as Gamekeeper, an occupation that this compiler notes seemed to change location of employment quite frequently.  It was as Stuart he was baptised in Sellindge, Kent on Sunday 28 January 1900.

The first census on which Stewart/Stuart was recorded was that of 1901 when the Webb family lived at Home Farm, Eastwell, Ashford. By the time of the 1911 census, the family was living at Acrise Park, Folkestone, Kent where his father was again recorded as being employed as a Gamekeeper.

It has been possible to ascertain when this casualty joined the army, or left the UK to serve on the Western Front with the British Expeditionary Force.

We know he served with 7th Battalion, The Buffs and, as part of the 55th Brigade 18th (Eastern) Division, on the day he died Stuarts’ battalion was fighting on the Somme. They were holding the brigade frontage, north of the Bray-Corbie road in trenches, which had previously been inhabited by the Germans. Australian troops had dislodged the Germans, and held the trenches until being relieved by The Buffs. Dawn was breaking as companies were being relieved all along the positions on the part of the front where the 7th (Service) Battalion, The Buffs (East Kent Regiment) was. Near The Buffs positions, soldiers of the East Surrey Regiment were at the time experiencing various difficulties during the relief operations. After all the experience gained by all formations by that time, the Germans, realising what was happening, took the opportunity to make a lightning attack at the weakest point in the British line.

Primarily due to the element of surprise, as well as the confusion that took place at the time, the German attack was a total success, their losses being particularly light. Some survivors of the attack made similar comments along the lines that they would have lost at least twice as many men, had the same attack by the enemy taken place in 1914. In gaining the trenches, the Germans had managed to gain a vital portion of the British line, and were in effect, in a very strong position to launch an attack from their new trenches. Due to the sparse cover that the holding troops had, and how thinly they were spread on the ground, to launch a counter attack was out of the question. British troops in the forward trenches were in mud knee deep, and had originally expected to leave them going on forward, not to withdraw from them. Including The Buffs, soldiers who then held the line braced themselves for a German raid, but first they expected an artillery bombardment which would almost certainly cause more deaths, as would the raid that would follow it. True to form, the German field guns commenced firing at 0420 hours for what the British thought would be a short time, but nearly two hours later the enemy artillery bombardment was still in progress. The British now suspected that a full scale attack was imminent, and not just a raid. For a full two hours, the then shelling continued again, part of the result was the telephone lines were all cut or, more correctly, smashed in several places making repair impossible. To compound the communication problems, because of the shape of the ground, it would have been pointless to try and signal visually.

When the enemy launched their attack on the thinly manned British defenders, they very quickly gained a front of approximately half a mile in length. Gallantly the soldiers of the East Surrey Regiment made a vain attempt to attack along the road itself. By 0830 hours it was apparent to the HQ staff that the German infantry were now in the old British first line, and that the situation was deteriorating rapidly.  Behind the old British first line was ‘Burke Line’ and, as they had done so many times before, The Buffs distinguished themselves in battle. News arrived at H.Q. that the battalion had, against all odds, captured the ‘Burke Line.’ Once in the ‘Burke Line’ The Buffs quickly established posts at all the trench junctions. Buoyed up by their success in taking the line, The Buffs then even pushed patrols out forward. Following this push, it was a surprised enemy that had to try and fend off the bombers of Stuarts’ battalion, as they closed on them at the junctions of their trenches. During these grenade attacks men died on both sides, but The Buffs continued to gain the upper hand.

It is worth mentioning here that during that morning of Tuesday 6 August 1918, the 55th Brigade was only two Battalions strong (perhaps that should read weak). The 7th (Service) Battalion, The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment) had been withdrawn to rest and refit but were ordered back to the front and were back in action at midday.

This part of the Somme did not see fighting until 26-27 March 1918, when the Third Army withdrew to a line between Albert and Sailly-le-Sec ahead of the German advance. This line was held until Thursday 4 July, when it was advanced nearly to Sailly-Laurette, and on Thursday 8 August, it being the first day of the Battle of Amiens, Sailly-Laurette and the road to Morlancourt were disengaged.

Stuart was numbered among the 18 personnel of his battalion who died on Tuesday 6 August 1918, of whom five have no known grave and are all commemorated on the Pozières Memorial. The other 13 soldiers are at rest at Beacon Cemetery, Sailly-Laurette which was named from a brick beacon on the summit of the ridge a little south-east of the village, and was made by the 18th (Eastern) Division Burial Officer on Thursday 15 August when the 12th (Eastern), 18th (Eastern) and 58th (London) Divisions attacked from the Ancre to the Somme, and the Australian Corps beyond the Somme.

Following Stuarts’ death he was initially posted as missing, but subsequently the Army Council at the War Office made the decision that for official purposes, it was to assumed that he had died on or after 6 August 1918. At the time of being officially notified of the decision which had been made by the Army Council, Stuarts’ mother who was his next of kin was living at Royal Oak Farm, Hougham, Dover, Kent.