Rupert Ferris, maternal relative: Saint Michael Offensive March 1918

Rupert Ferris was born in 1899 at the Lock Keepers House, near The Bridge, Newbury, Berkshire, England and was Killed in action during the Saint Michael German Offensive in March 1918 on the Western Front.

Rupert was related to me on my mothers side of the family and was the brother-in-law of a second cousin, twice removed. The actual lineage is:

  • Rupert Ferris (1899-1918)
  • Elizabeth Ferris (1855-unknown) - mother of Rupert Ferris
  • George James Nowell Clutterbuck (1888-1960) - son of Elizabeth Ferris
  • Florence Louise Priday (1888-1947) - wife of George James Nowell Clutterbuck
  • Joseph Priday (1850-1917) - father of Florence Louise Priday
  • William Priday (1825-1879) - father of Joseph Priday
  • Hester Esther Hill (1802-1879) - mother of William Priday
  • Nathaniel Priday (1830-1900) - son of Hester Esther Hill
  • Joseph Priday (1853-1933) - son of Nathaniel Priday
  • Joseph Priday (1888-1954) son of Joseph Priday
  • Alice May Priday (1917-2009) - daughter of Joseph Priday - my mother
  • William G Hyde - me

His Family

River Kennet and canal in NewburyRupert's father, John Ferris, was born on the 9 October 1852 Rowde, Wiltshire, England and died on the 3 May 1922 in Yatton Keynell, Wiltshire, England.

John Ferris married Elizabeth Baker during 1875 and they set up home at the Lock Keepers Cottage, North Brook St, Newbury, Berkshire, England where John had become the Lock Keeper on the Kennet and Avon Canal, which traverses southern England from the River Thams at Reading to the River Avon at Bristol.

John & Elizabeth raised 10 children:

  • Elizabeth (Eliza) Jane Ferris (1877–unknown)
  • Annie Louise (Louisa) Ferris (1879–unknown)
  • John T Ferris(1882–unknown)
  • George T Ferris (1883–unknown)
  • Ada Lotty (Lottie) Ferris (1887–1975)
  • Brice E Ferris (1890–unknown)
  • Richard Alfred Ferris (1892–unknown)
  • Walter Henry Ferris (1894–1972)
  • Stanly James Ferris (1897–unknown)
  • Rupert Ferris (1899–1918)

Rupert finished his schooling early and at 12 years old in 1911 was working as an Errand Boy, whilst still living at home.

At the age of 17 he married Susan Williams during September 1916 at Winchester, Hampshire, England and they set up home at 57 Canon St, Winchester, Berkshire, England.

His Military Service

Rupert joined the Princess Charlotte of Wales's (Royal Berkshire) Regiment as a boy soldier on the 27th June 1914 when he was just 15 years old and still living at home with his parents. He was enlisted as a Private with Regimental Number 10217.

The Princess Charlotte of Wales's Royal Berkshire Regiment

The Princess Charlotte of Wales's Royal Berkshire Regiment was formed in 1881 by the amalgamation of the 49th (Princess Charlotte of Wales's) (Hertfordshire) Regiment of Foot and the 66th (Berkshire) Regiment of Foot.

During WWI, The Royal Berkshire Regiment formed a total of 16 battalions from the pre-war establishment of two regular, one reserve and two territorial battalions. The regiment was awarded 55 battle honours and two of its members gained Victoria Crosses during the conflict. The Royal Berkshire Regiment lost 7,140 casualties during the Great War 1914-1918.

Army Service Corps Labour Companies

Rupert's Army service records show that he only stayed with the Royal Berks for 15 days, (25 June 1914 to 9 July 1914) after which he was transferred into the Army Service Corps.

The ASC Labour Companies originated to provide manpower to unload British ships and operate the docks in France. Two railway labour companies were also formed. I have a an article giving the brief history of the ASC here.

Quite often member of the ASC Labour Companies were those soldiers rejected by fighting untits because they did not meet the physical or mental standards of the fighting units. This grouping includedthe individuals who enlisted into a fighting regiment but after a period of training were unable to maintain the discipline of marching and basic training and those who were injured (either in training or battle) and deemed to be still of use to the Army and not suitable for early discharge.

Tank Corps

By the end of 1917 Rupert had again be transferred, this time to the Ist Battalion of theTank Corps. He was still a Private and now had Regimental Number 316815. The regiment did not at that time include the world Royal in its title. The Royal was added in 1923.

It is worth noting that in 1917 the Racecourse in Rupert's home town of Newbury was being used to house British Army Mounted Troops, as a training ground for the British Army Tank Corps and as a German prisoner of war camp. It is pure speculation, but perhaps the presence of the Tank Corp in his home town had some bearing on Rupert's final Regiment service.

The Tank Corps was formed from the Heavy Branch Machine Gun Companies on 27 July 1917 and in August 1917 were organised into 13 Battalions, each given a designation letter A - M. In December 1917 two further battalions,  N & O were formed. Battalions A - I were fighting battalions with J - M being training & maintenance battalions.

British-Mark-IV-tank-ww1In July 1918. The alphabetical titles were replaced with numbers. Direct lineage (A>1 Battalion etc...) was maintained. It is probable that this is where Rupert picked up his final Regimental/Service Number of 97250.

Each Tank Battalion had a complement of 32 officers amd 374 men.

It is likely that Rupert was transferred into the RTC at its formation - the Army would have looked around its existing compliments for people with likely skills that could be transferred to form the initial battalions. Rupert had been in the ASC and apart from doing the fetching & carrying the ASC also trained people to drive all many of vehicle, including heavy trucks and early tracked tractors. They also had extensive maintenance depots to keep all the vehicles the ASC used in running order.

In late 1917 the Tank Corps took part in the Battle of Cambrai. The British aim was to break through the Hindenburg Line, a very strongly defended trench system backed by two canals.

At first light on the 20th November, 1917, the late Brigadier-General Elles (later Sir Hugh Elles) led the first wave of tanks in his tank "Hilda." All nine Battalions 'A to I' took part and were organised in three gigantic waves. The first wave of tanks carried fascines (huge bundles of faggots which could be dropped into the trenches and so enable the tanks to cross) and had the task of breaking through the wire and trenches of the Hindenburg Line. The second wave was to secure the crossing of the St. Quentin’s Canal. The third wave was to exploit the breakthrough and cause havoc in the enemy’s rear. The first and second waves admirably carried out their tasks and " by 4 pm. on the 20th one of the most astonishing battles in all history had been won and, as far as the Tank Corps was concerned, tactically finished, for, no reserves existing it was not possible to do more than rally the now very weary and exhausted crews, select the fittest and patch up composite companies to continue the attack."

By the 22nd more ground had been won than in any comparable period of the war, but tragically, due to the unforeseen successes of the Tanks, cavalry and infantry were too far behind to exploit the victory and the Germans had time to stop the gap. Captain Wain of 'A' Battalion was awarded the Victoria Cross during the Battle of Cambrai.

The success of the tanks at Cambrai was so great that they were used in increasing numbers in France, and even saw action in Palestine at Gaza under General Allenby. In fact, by the end of the war there were 22 Battalions. April saw the first Tank Versus Tank action when a male tank of the 1st Battalion engaged three German tanks, knocking out one and putting the other two to flight. However, Rupert was not around to see this historic action.

The Saint Michael Offensive

When the German army attacked in March 1918, British tanks were little used as a defensive weapon, but played an important part in the extraordinary counter-attack at Villers-Bretonneux on 24-25 April. During this action they faced for the first time the few German tanks that were ever produced. (The Germans also used captured British tanks, mostly from from Cambrai).

March 21, 1918 - Germany's all-out gamble for victory begins upon the launch of the first of a series of successive spring offensives on the Western Front. The Saint Michael Offensive, named after Germany's patron saint, begins after a five-hour 6,000-gun artillery bombardment as 65 divisions from the German 2nd, 17th and 18th Armies attack the British 3rd and 5th Armies along a 60-mile front in the Somme. At first it seems destined to succeed as the thinly stretched British 5th Army is quickly overrun and wrecked. Using effective storm troop tactics, the Germans recapture all of the ground they lost in 1916 during the Battle of the Somme and press forward. However, during the two week offensive, the British 3rd Army manages to hold itself together and prevents the Germans from taking Arras and Amiens, key objectives of the offensive.

Rupert Ferris was Killed in action. during the Saint Michael Offensive, on 24th March 1918.

His Burial

rupertferrisRupert Ferris is commemorated on Panel 94 at the Pozieres Memorial, Departement de la Somme, Picardie, France.

Pozieres is a village 6 kilometres north-east of the town of Albert. The Memorial encloses Pozieres British Cemetery which is a little south-west of the village on the north side of the main road, D929, from Albert to Pozieres.

On the road frontage is an open arcade terminated by small buildings and broken in the middle by the entrance and gates. Along the sides and the back, stone tablets are fixed in the stone rubble walls bearing the names of the dead grouped under their Regiments.

The Pozieres Memorial relates to the period of crisis in March and April 1918 when the Allied Fifth Army was driven back by overwhelming numbers across the former Somme battlefields, and the months that followed before the Advance to Victory, which began on 8 August 1918.

The Memorial commemorates over 14,000 casualties of the United Kingdom and 300 of the South African Forces who have no known grave and who died on the Somme from 21 March to 7 August 1918. The Corps and Regiments most largely represented are The Rifle Brigade with over 600 names, The Durham Light Infantry with approximately 600 names, the Machine Gun Corps with over 500, The Manchester Regiment with approximately 500 and The Royal Horse and Royal Field Artillery with over 400 names.

The memorial encloses Pozieres British Cemetery, Plot II of which contains original burials of 1916, 1917 and 1918, carried out by fighting units and field ambulances. The remaining plots were made after the Armistice when graves were brought in from the battlefields immediately surrounding the cemetery, the majority of them of soldiers who died in the Autumn of 1916 during the latter stages of the Battle of the Somme, but a few represent the fighting in August 1918.

There are now 2,758 Commonwealth servicemen buried or commemorated in this cemetery. 1,380 of the burials are unidentified but there are special memorials to 23 casualties known or believed to be buried among them. There is also 1 German soldier buried here.

The cemetery and memorial were designed by W.H. Cowlishaw, with sculpture by Laurence A. Turner. The memorial was unveiled by Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien on 4 August 1930.