Private J.J. Twyman 2nd bn. Royal Sussex – 30th October 1914

On the 30th October the battle for Ypres had been raging for ten days.  The enemy infantry attacks and incessant shelling had failed to break the Allied lines, but the German offensive continued unabated regardless of the cost in men and material.  The professional soldiers of the small BEF had fought doggedly along with French and Belgium troops, but the numbers of BEF were rapidly dwindling.  By the 26th of October it was calculated that the 7th division, fighting to the east of Ypres, had lost around 44% of its Officers and some 37% of other ranks in this short period.

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click to enlarge

Until the 26th October elements of the 1st division had been in reserve but now moved forward to support the 2nd and 7th Divisions.

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HERENTHAGE CHATEAU – a pre-war drawing

The battalion’s war diary describes entrenching in “chateau wood”, a wood belonging to Herenthage Chateau on 27th October, and the action on the next two days:

YPRES (“POLYGONE” WOOD) 28 October 1914 Moved at 8:00 AM and advanced about two kilometres, the enemy dropping shells in our vicinity during the advance. We halted and entrenched in a wood (“POLYGONE WOOD”) over which a few of the enemy’s high explosive shells burst killing 2 officers horses and wounding 1 officers horse and 1 draught horse, also one man.

In addition, 3 men were wounded when bringing small arms ammunition carts across some open ground up to the Battalion, and sergeant BURGESS (in charge) was knocked off his horse but luckily escaped injury. Private HOLLINGDALE, the driver of a small arms ammunition cart although wounded managed to bring the ammunition up to the Battalion under the fire.

YPRES (“CHATEAU” WOOD) 29 October 1914 At about 5:30 AM an attack was made all along our line, several shells dropping on our position. The Brigade after a while moved back on to “CHATEAU WOOD” and occupied their original trenches. We received valuable information the night before from a spy who must have been on German Staff – he foretold that this attack would be made at 5:30 and the exact spot (crossroads near GHELEVULT).

The morning of the 30th starts with heavy shelling of the 2nd Royal Sussex.  Not a new experience for the men as they had been in France since early August.  The 2nd battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment were part of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division who had landed on 13th August 1914 at Le Havre.  Among the many reservists in their ranks was Lance Corporal, later made temporary Corporal, James John William Twyman , know as John James Twyman (cwgc entry) in the Army.  He was aged 29, with a wife and child.

James John William Twyman was born in Kent in 1885, the second oldest surviving child of James and Agnes Twyman.  One of nine siblings, and with eight brothers.  The family lived in Canterbury.

Judging by surviving records, John James Twyman joined the Army in 1904 and would expect to serve for 7 years, sometimes extended to eight, before being placed on reserve for another five years.  He is likely to have spent time in Malta and Crete before being posted to India where he was in the 1st bn. Royal Sussex at Rawalpindi in 1911, already a Lance Corporal.  He is likely to have returned to England by 1912.

Life takes a new turn for J.J Twyman when he marries Florence Francis Titcombe at St.Peter & St.Paul Mitcham on October 27th 1913.  His wife, Florence, had been born and grown up in Mitcham.  J.J Twyman was working as a chauffeur and valet by this time and gave an address in Scotland.  Florence gave her family address as Baron Row Mitcham.  Their only child, John S N Twyman, was born in 1914, before the outbreak of War.

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Mitcham Parish Church

Reservists were mobilized immediately and would have had no more than a few days to get their affairs in order before leaving for France, with many a tearful goodbye.

There are long marches for the 2nd Royal Sussex in August 1914, they are held in reserve outside Mons within sight and sound of the battle.  On 10 September they see action at Pretz where they suffer a number of losses – 19 killed, 85 wounded and a number missing.  On 14 September the diary records ‘First Day – Battle Aisne’ and the Battalion suffers further losses during days of artillery bombardment.  They remain in trenches in Troyon until leaving for Belgium overnight on 15th October, but not before intermittent shelling and sniping had claimed the lives of more officers and men.  They remained in reserve at Boesinghe for four days from 21st October, before being at the crossroads near Gheluvelt on the 30th.  The 2nd Royal Sussex war diary continues:

YPRES (CHATEAU WOOD – “COALBOX WOOD”) 30 October 1914 In the morning about 10:00 AM the enemy, who probably had learnt by espionage that 1st Division Headquarters were in CHATEAU WOOD, began to “coal box” it with vigour. These shells dropped right along our men’s dugouts. During this bombardment orders were received by the 2nd Brigade to move at once to ZANDEVOORDE to restore the line. Order of march SUSSEX, NORTHAMPTONSHIRES – the other two battalions had moved towards GHELEVULT the night before – route as shown on map 5 and 6. In the first place Colonel CRISPIN endeavoured to take a short cut across country to road east of point E. Headquarters and the leading Company were just off the main road when the enemy opened a heavy shrapnel fire. Colonel CRISPIN’s horse took fright and took him on under this fire. He was shot and killed instantaneously and his horse stopped at a FARM nearby, where he is buried. The Battalion then proceeded under Major GREEN along the main road and turning to the left at HOOGE advanced to point X (map 6). On reaching this point we were shelled a bit by high explosive shrapnel and high explosive percussion shells and received orders to attack and make good the line of the road A. D Company advanced and reached wood B supported by B Company. They were unable to advance farther although reinforced by B on account of very heavy rifle and machine gun fire from the Sun. C Company held the line of the hedge C, but were held up there owing to heavy enfilade rifle fire from the left. On our right we were in touch with the Gordon Highlanders and on our left with the Staffordshires of the 22nd Brigade who were not quite up in line with us. While these Companies held the ground they had occupied A Company assisted by the Royal Engineers prepared a position to hold that night (marked in red map 6).

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Map 6 – click to enlarge

31 October 1914 This line was held until midday 31st when the 22nd Brigade reported that our centre had been broken near GHELEVULT and we were forced to leave our position and go back to point D and the ground just north of it. A report was then received that the enemy were advancing in our direction and had sent 2 Squadrons of Cavalry to endeavour to get round our right flank. Consequently 2 Companies and machine guns were sent back to a second position in the direction of YPRES and 2 Companies remained to delay the enemy in the wood D. The enemy came on in large numbers as far as the 5 crossroads. Here we met them and drove him back (3:30 PM). By 5:30 PM the enemy had been driven right back out of wood D and we received orders at 6:00 PM to retake our old trenches – information having been received that the centre near GHELEVULT had been restored by a counter attack made by the Grenadiers.

The whole Battalion advanced with fixed bayonet from the 5 crossroads where they had reformed the two Companies that were sent back to 2nd position having been recalled when we heard the centre was restored.

Orders having been given to advance the Battalion advanced by the track running from D to B wood map 6, while the Northamptonshires advanced by the next track on our left. After reconnoitring we found that the enemy were entrenched in the wood occupied by A and B Companies in the morning, and had 4 machine guns in the belt of trees running from the north-east corner of it, firing down the track and across the open towards 5 crossroads. The enemy’s trenches were well back in the wood and facing north; they also occupied the trenches held by D Company in the morning and had placed a machine gun on the left of that trench. The following plan was made and carried out. D Company were to attack the trench held by them in the morning while the remainder of the Battalion advanced across the open against the German trenches in the wood. The Germans held their fire until we were quite close and then opened very heavy rifle and machine gun fire. Part of the line on the extreme left reached the road and led by Major GREEN and Lieutenant VERRALL got into the ditch on the other side of it. The centre of the line was forced by the enfilading machine gun fire to take cover in a ditch (map 8). The extreme right of the line reached the road and found the ditch on the far side occupied by the Northamptonshires, who went down as far as dotted line on map.

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Map 8 – click to enlarge

We then found ourselves compelled to retire. B Company in centre getting back across the open covered by our machine guns. C on the Left and A on the right crawled along the ditch running along the edge of the wood. We got back to the 5 crossroads. D Company came under heavy fire in close order and were driven back. Our machine guns succeeded in silencing the 4 German guns.

We then got orders to entrench the line shown dark on map 9. We reformed the Battalion and commenced digging in this line about 3:00 Am, 1st.

The casualties during these two days were Lieutenant Colonel CRISPIN killed, Major GREEN wounded also Lieutenant LOUSADA and 2nd Lieutenants CROFT, MARILLIER and SHAW and 394 Other ranks killed, wounded and missing. Most of these casualties occurred on the afternoon of the 30th. Major GREEN was shot in the forearm during the night attack and 4 subalterns were killed on the afternoon of the 30th.

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HERENTHAGE CHATEAU – circa 1917

J.J Twyman had not survived, and with no known grave his name appears on the Menin Gate. His widow, Florence was re-married before the war ended to Herbert Webb., and they spent the rest of their lives in Mitcham. Florence ensured her first husband’s name was added to the Mitcham War Memorial.

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Their son John S N Twyman died aged 16 in 1930. He was buried on 11 July 1930 at Church Road Cemetery, as was Florence and Herbert Webb in turn.

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