Wilfred Arthur Andrews: Ypres November 1914

Wilfred Arthur Andrews was born during April 1891 in Lower Milton, Stourport-on-Severn, Worcestershire, England and lost his life in the Battle for Ypres, Belgium in November 1914.

Wilfred Arthur Andrews was the brother-in-law of one of my grand uncles on my mothers side of the family and the actual lineage is:

  • Wilfred Arthur Andrews (1891 - 1914)
  • George Edward Andrews (1861 - ) - father of Wilfred Arthur Andrews
  • Edith Hannah Andrews (1885 - 1959) - daughter of George Edward Andrews
  • James Alfred Sheward (1886 - 1963) - husband of Edith Hannah Andrews
  • Susannah (Susan) Speake (1847 - 1927) - mother of James Alfred Sheward
  • Mary Louisa Sheward (1880 - 1967) - daughter of Susannah (Susan) Speake
  • Alice May Priday (1917 - 2009) - daughter of Mary Louisa Sheward
  • William G Hyde - me

His Family

Wilfred Arthur's father was George Edward Andrews born abt 1860 in Stourport, Worcestershire, England & died approx 1930 in Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, England. In October 1878 George Edward married Susan Rowbery at Kidderminster, Worcestershire, England. Susan Rowbery was born during January 1861 in Stourport, Worcestershire, England and died during January 1903 in Droitwich, Worcestershire, England.

George Edward & Susan set up home at Farm Bed, Lower Milton, Bewdley, Worcestershire, England and George Edward was employed by the Hollow Tin Man Iron works where he was a workman at the forge. George Edward & Susan had 9 children:

  • Thomas J Andrews (1880 – ?)
  • George E. Andrews (1881 – ?)
  • Elsie Mary Andrews (1884 – ?)
  • Edith Hannah Andrews (1885 – 1959
  • Mary Eliza Andrews (1888 – ?)
  • Wilfred Arthur Andrews (1891 – 1914
  • Archibald Peter Andrews (1893 – ?)
  • Patrince Amelia Andrews (1895 – ?)
  • Hilda May Andrews (1898 – ?)

George Edward & Susan had moved by 1891 to 16 Somerfield, Lower Mitton, Bewdley, Worcestershire, England and George Edward was a Ball furnaceman in the Iron Works. And by 1901 they had moved again to 8 Summerfeild Rd, Upper Mitton, Stourport-on-Severn, Worcestershire, England. Following the death of Susan in 1903 George Edward moved to Yorkshire and met a lady called Selina Georgina (surname unknown), they married and set up home at 16 Drosfield Rd, Eckington, Sheffield, Yorkshire and George Edward (at age 50) was working as the Foreman of screening plant at the local Coal Mine. However, by 1914 George Edward & Selina Georgina had moved back to the Midlands and had a home at 26, Knox Rd, Blakenhall, Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, England. After George Edwards death approx 1930, Selina Georgina married a William Nunn and she was the proprietor of a "Fancy Drapery" at 69 Franchise St, Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, England.

Wilfred Arthur Andrews seems to have gone straight into the British Army, signing on as a regular soldier in the 1st Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment during 1909.

His Military Service

Records are not clear exactly when Wilfred Arthur Andrews enlisted in the British Army, however they do show that he was in Gibraltar in 1911. Working backwards from this point I estimate he enlisted when he reached 18, in 1909. What is known is that he enlisted at Lichfield, Staffordshire. At that time it took around 12 - 18 months to train soldiers before they were shipped off to war or overseas service. Assuming it was 18 months in Wilfred Arthur's case a join date of 1909 would tie up with the known facts.

Wilfred Arthur Andrews joined as a Private and was given Regimental Number 8486.

Military records also show that was a resident of Warrington, Lancashire, England in 1910, possibly at a Military training centre or barracks.

1st Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment

The 1st Battalion was sent to Egypt in 1882 as part of the British invasion of the country. On landing in Alexandria, it carried its colours through the city - this was the last occasion on which a British Army unit carried colours on active service. In 1885, the battalion travelled up the River Nile to Sudan in an unsuccessful attempt to lift the Siege of Khartoum. The battalion was subsequently involved in the defeat of Arab forces at Kirbekan. The battle was to be the last time that the South Staffords wore red uniforms in battle.

The 1st Battalion then entered a long period of garrison duty in Gibraltar, Egypt, England and Ireland. With the outbreak of the Second Boer War, it embarked for South Africa, arriving as part of the 8th Division in 1900. The battalion was mostly involved in minor skirmishes with the Boers, but suffered casualties due to disease and poor nutrition.

In 1904, the 1st South Staffords returned to the UK, being stationed in Ireland and England until 1911, when it moved to Gibraltar. While in Gibraltar, new colours were presented to the battalion by King George V on 31 January 1912. The battalion returned to South Africa in 1913.

Wilfred Arthur's military records show that he was in Gibraltar in 1911, presumably joining the Battalion in England before they shipped out to Gibraltar.

When war was declared on 4th August 1914 the 1st Battalion was in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. They promptly returned to England, landing at Southampton on 19 September 1914. They were placed under orders to the 22nd Brigade in the 7th Division and were moved to White Moor a short distance from Lyndhurst (New Forest) Hampshire where training and replenishment camps had been set up for troops.

In October 1914, 15,000 troops left the Lyndhurst training camps and sailed for France, heading for the battlefields of Ypres. Three weeks after going into action, only 2,380 were still alive!

The 1st Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment landed at Zeebrugge, Belgium on 6 October 1914 and were ordered to assist in the defence of Antwerp. However, by the time they arrived the city was already falling and the 1st Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment and the 7th Division they were part of were redirected to hold certain important bridges and other places that would help the westward evacuation of the Belgian army. Once the Belgians were through, the Division was moved westwards, where the infantry entrenched in front of Ypres, the first British troops to occupy that fateful place.

First Battle of Ypres

Strategically located along the roads leading to the Channel ports in Belgian Flanders, the Belgian city of Ypres had been the scene of numerous battles since the sixteenth century. With the German failure at the Battle of the Marne in September 1914 and the subsequent Allied counter attacks, the "Race to the Sea" began.

This so called race ended at the North Sea coast after each army attempted to outflank the other by moving north and west. This area of Flanders, described by one historian as having the dreariest landscape in Western Europe, contained the last gap through which either side could launch a decisive thrust.

By October 1914, the Allies had reached Nieuport on the North Sea coast. The Germans, as a prelude to General Erich von Falkenhayn's Flanders Offensive, captured Antwerp and forced its Belgian defenders back to Nieuport, near Ypres.

ypressaliant1914Under the command of Field Marshall Sir John French, the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) retreated to Ypres after Antwerp fell. They arrived there between 8 and 19 October to bolster the Belgian and French defence. The Allied position around Ypres took the shape of a small salient in the trench lines because it could best be defended from the low ridge of higher ground to the east, but it was vulnerable to superior German artillery. The BEF held a thirty-five mile long line in the centre of the bulge while the French Army in the area, commanded by General Ferdinand Foch, manned the flanks to the south of the city.

At the outset of the battle, the French and Foch both retained the hope of launching an offensive of their own. They believed a coordinated attack would enable the Allies to recapture the industrial city of Lille, Belgium, followed swiftly by Brussels. The new German Army Chief of Staff, Falkenhayn, quickly corrected their optimistic beliefs.

Falkenhayn's Flanders Offensive began on 20 October when he ordered an advance to break through the Allied line and capture the ports of Dunkirk, Calais, and Boulogne. He struck the Belgian defences on the Yser River between Dixmude and Nieuport.

The already weakened Belgian Army fought valiantly, but the German actions forced Belgium's King Albert to open the sluices that held back the sea. On 27 October, the Belgians flooded the land between their positions and the Germans' along the twenty-mile strip of land between Dixmude and Nieuport, creating a two-mile wide water barrier that forced Falkenhayn to halt and reconsider his plans.

The second phase of the Flanders Offensive was a series of assaults against the city of Ypres. To seize it, Falkenhayn had at his disposal the newly assembled Fourth Army (made up of units from the siege of Antwerp and eight new divisions manned by underage recruits) commanded by the Duke of Wurttemberg, a cavalry corps, and Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria's Sixth Army.

These forces gave the Germans a considerable numerical advantage over the BEF's seven infantry divisions (one was held in reserve) and three cavalry divisions. For replacements, General French could only count on a few divisions of Indian troops already en route as reinforcements. The Indian units would soon prove to be outstanding fighters in both offence and defence.

The attacks began along a much narrower front on 31 October when German cavalry drove a smaller British cavalry unit from its position on the Messines Ridge at the southern end of the salient. Shortly thereafter, German forces engaged General Douglas Haig's First Corps further to the north, but a ferocious British counterattack repelled the Germans. Thanks to superior British rifle fire, they were able to hold this sector. The British rifles were so fast and deadly that the Germans mistakenly believed they were facing British machine guns.

On 11 November, two premier German divisions attempted to break the British lines just north of the Menin Road in the Nuns' Woods only four miles from Ypres itself. The Prussian Guards and the 4th Division sought the town of Hooge; the attack lasted all day. Initially successful in creating a breakthrough, the Germans were slow in exploiting their gains. German indecisiveness enabled the British to assemble a motley collection of soldiers (cooks, officer's servants, medical orderlies, clerks, and engineers) who stemmed the enemy advance and eventually drove them back to their own lines.

Fighting around Ypres would linger on until 22 November when the onset of winter weather forced a break in hostilities. The combat during this engagement was extremely confusing and unrelenting. After the fight, British survivors were content to say that they had been at "First Ypres"; no more information was necessary to explain what they endured.

Less than half of the 160,000 men the BEF sent to France came out of the encounter unscathed. After November 1914, the British would come to call these trenches 'the Salient" and would remain as Ypres' guardians for the rest of the war.

meningate-2His Death

Wilfred Arthur Andrews was Killed in action at during the First Battle of Ypres on 7th November 1914.

On the day Wilfred Arthur Andrews died, Captain J. F. Vallentin of the 1st Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment was awared a Victoria Cross at Ypres. The citation for Vallentin's action reads as follows:

"On 7 November 1914 at Zillebeke, Belgium, when leading an attack against the Germans under very heavy fire, Captain Vallentin was struck down and on rising to continue the attack, was immediately killed. The capture of the enemy's trenches which immediately followed was in a great measure due to the confidence which the men had in their captain, arising from his many previous acts of great bravery and ability."

It is highly likely that Wilfred Arthur Andrews was also Killed during the attack led by Captain Vallentin, because he had been promoted to Lance Corporal and would have been out front with the valiant Captain leading the troops.

His Burial

meningate-1Unfortunately, Wilfred Arthur Andrews is one of the 54,000 officers and men whose graves are not known and whose passing is commemorated on the panels set into the walls of the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial.

The 1st Battalion, South Stafforsdshire Regiment members are shown on Panel 35 and 37.

The site of the Menin Gate was chosen because of the hundreds of thousands of men who passed through it on their way to the battlefields.

It commemorates casualties from the forces of Australia, Canada, India, South Africa and United Kingdom who died in the Salient.

The memorial, designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield with sculpture by Sir William Reid-Dick, was unveiled by Lord Plumer on 24 July 1927.