April 21st 1917

Lieut. John Pratt (Yorkshire Regiment)

Announced in The Times yesterday was the death, on April 11th at St. Martin sur Caquel, of Jack Pratt, the second Old Dragon to die in the battle at Arras.

His regiment was involved in an attack on the Hindenburg Line. The artillery having failed to destroy the barbed wire defences, John went ahead with a machine gun to find a gap in the wire entanglement through which he might take his Company.  He was picked off by a sniper.

His Commanding Officer has commended him for his gallantry and devotion to duty.

During his time at the OPS Jack was a promising athlete and a merry youngster around the school, with plenty of pluck and nerve. He distinguished himself at Blundell’s School, which he entered in 1908, by getting his cricket and rugger colours whilst still aged 15.

April 19th 1917

2nd Lieut. Rafe Griffith (Royal West Kents) only left us five years ago, in August 1912 (with an Exhibition to St. Bees College, where Harold and William Leefe Robinson also went).

We presume that this description is of the Battle of Arras, which has featured in our newspapers of late and opened up on the morning of April 9th:

14/4/17. “Here we are absolutely untouched. We ‘went over’ at 5.30 a.m., and of course it was raining. Never shall I forget ‘zero.’ There are two outstanding things, barrage and the company going over. Every gun massed at A______ went off together, as though worked by a spring, in one great crash.

The company went over as though starting a 100 yard race, never a man late. The whole way through I can’t say enough for the men. They were magnificent throughout, laughing and joking all the time. There aren’t any duds in the British Army; they are all as plucky as anything and full of the fighting spirit.

We took old Fritz by surprise, entirely; we were over his first lines before he had realised anything. Some of them were in bed with their boots off. I had two lucky escapes. Before we reached our front line, my haversack was shot away; we were finally held up by a strong party of Germans at the end of a communication trench. Three bombing raids were led against them, but their snipers were too hot for us. Then a bullet went through my steel helmet. We finally rushed them over the open and bagged the lot. We then went on to our objective and found Fritz had cleared off.

We stayed there that night and the next day had to go on to the furthest point our troops reached. It snowed hard all the time, and we were all soaked to the skin and a bitter wind was blowing.

On arriving at our destination, we found the Boche on three sides of us and had quite a nasty time from his shelling…

The line nowadays is a very funny place. Both sides sit in shell holes and little bits of trenches a few feet deep, with gaps here and there in the line, so when we take over a bit of the front, we don’t know whether we are hanging by a thread, so to speak, or strongly supported on the flanks. Fritz doesn’t give us much opportunity to find out either, as his snipers are always on the watch and it is more than one’s life is worth to show oneself…

The general feeling out here now is that the war may be over by the Autumn, but that we shall have to fight very hard.”

This is encouraging to hear.

January 27th 1916

I wonder if you have worked out where Capt. Maurice Jacks was when he wrote:

“Being more or less conscientious I cannot tell you exactly where ‘here’ is, but if you remember where Polonius was stabbed, you will be within reasonable distance of the spot.”

Polonius stabbed

Polonius was hiding behind a rich tapestry (typically hung to make a screen) when stabbed by Hamlet. Such a tapestry was called an arras.

So, our man is somewhere near the town of Arras, to the north of Albert in the region of the Somme.

W Front map

 

Two marks if you got it right, one if you got it wrong!