ID IYS_009 Article from Mersea Museum / Edwin Sparrow

TitlePercy William Mortlock
Abstract

MORTLOCK, PERCY WILLIAM
Rank: Private
Regiment: Northamptonshire Regiment, 2nd battalion, 24th Brigade, 8th Division
Age 16
Date of death 14 March 1915
Service No. 12628

Percy was the son of Mr George & Mrs Lucy Mortlock, who lived at Pete Tye's Cottage. His father, George, was 40 and working as a poultry dealer in 1901 and living in Peldon with the family. There was a great granny, Sarah aged 72, who had been a seamstress, a granny Elizah aged 60 and grandfather, Isaac also aged 60. His mother, Lucy aged 30 had been born in Langenhoe. There was an aunt Jessie, 33 who worked as a seamstress. Apart from Percy aged 2 in 1901, there was Arthur 5, Grace 7 and Stanley born in 1900.

There was another girl, possibly a sister Gertrude Maud christened 8th February 1896 at Saint Mary's Langenhoe. However, as she is not listed in 1901, she may have died in infancy.

British Regular Army battalions were brought back from overseas to form the 8th Division in 1914. They were shipped to France in the November. Percy was to die in their first major battle. Percy arrived in France on the 24th February 1915 and was killed 22 days later.

The Battle of Neuve- Chapelle - 10th - 13th March 1915

IV Corps : 7th Division, 8th Division

The battle was the first major offensive by the British Army in an attempt to recover ground lost in the 1914 German Offensive.

The battle involved the First Army, commanded by Sir Douglas Haig with Rawlinson's IV Corps on the left and Willcock's Indian Corps on the right. The battle was a dawn attack, which opened with a 35-minute bombardment of the front line. Some 11000 shells were allotted to this task, which was about a sixth of the total available to the BEF. This was followed by a second barrage of half an hour on the village and the German reserve trenches. However, as regards the reserve positions, this was not very effective due to lack of sufficient ammunition. Three infantry Brigades then advanced as the barrage lifted from the front line.

Neuve-Chapelle after the British barrage.

The 25th and 23rd Brigades of the 8th Division made good progress against the village, which was captured by darkness. The 24th Brigade were checked by the Germans at a cross roads 600 yards North west of Pietre. However, the Germans brought up reinforcements and held their second line of defence. The battle then petered out in stalemate.

The following is a description of the Battle as seen in terms of Percy's Battalion :- "The object of the onslaught was to relieve Lille, the village of Neuve Chapelle being eleven miles west of that town. The ground we had to advance over was flat and marshy with a ridge behind, one spur of which was Aubers, where both our 1st and 2nd Battalions were wiped out two months later.

So secretly were the preparations made that the Germans were taken unawares at 7.30 on the morning of March 10th, 1915 by the most terrific bombardment hitherto witnessed in the war. From 350 guns of all calibres - French and English - there poured forth a terrific tornado of shot and shell at short range. Our men, crouching under cover, were appalled by the deafening roar and devastating results. The deluge shattered trenches like sand castles and so close were the Germans to our lines that frightful fragments of once living men came back on us amid a welter of earth, dust and green lyddite fumes. Then at 8.00 the gunners lengthened their range and the village of Neuve Chapelle began to leap in the air. The devastation was so appalling that the whole place soon became a rubbish heap, and when the Northamptons (C & D Companies) rushed forward to assist the 25th Brigade, they found this once happy village so shattered that even the churchyard was uprooted and long dead bodies were unearthed to mingle with the mangled corpses of men, who a few hours earlier had been full of vigorous life. At five o'clock the Battalion, though weary with hard fighting, made an attack in a south-easterly direction with the Worcesters on their right. The gallant colonel, map in hand, led the attack, but they were met by such a withering fire that they could not get beyond a thousand yards and had to dig themselves in forty yards beyond the village.

During the night the enemy had recovered from their surprise sufficiently to bring up heavy reinforcements and such a multiplicity of machine guns that just facing one part of our line there were 20 to an area of 300 yards. The result was that at 7 o'clock next morning when we attempted to renew the attack, we were repulsed with heavy loss. At noon D Company attempted to advance but were again beaten back; Lieutenant Gordon being shot in the throat and Lieutenant W.A.A. Coldwell, though hit in the side, back and foot crawled back over a mile across the shell stricken field. The Battalion remained in the trenches until dawn on the 12th, when the enemy vigorously counter-attacked but were repulsed with fearful slaughter. Then Colonel Prichard ordered the Regiment to charge the enemy's third line of trenches. During this attack Captains Stocker and Wood Martin were both killed. We seized the trench but could not hold it. It was enfiladed by the enemy and bombarded by own guns, for the telephone communications had been smashed and it was difficult to get messages back to our batteries. The plight of the Steelbacks was terrible. Officers and men were falling on all sides until it seemed that none could survive. They could not advance and would not retire, so that they were faced with the awful prospect of being annihilated. From the messages received or issued by the Brigade Headquarters, the Northamptons seemed to be the first to be fully conscious of the chaos - and to send back candid reports of the accountable delay in sending reinforcements, the blunders of our artillery, and the fearful slaughter due to long stretches of the enemy's entanglements remaining intact. ****** Colonel Prichard complained strongly of artillery shells falling short, also that he had very few officers left and the thin remnant of the Battalion was too tired to keep on. His handwriting of the message indicated the severe strain he was enduring at the gradual annihilation of a battalion in which he took such a pardonable pride. Just previously his adjutant, Captain Power had been killed, his right-hand man Major Higginbotham had been shot down, Captain Capell, who the previous day had been saved by a bullet striking a knife in his breast pocket, was killed instantly, and others who fell were Captain L. J. Robinson, Lieutenants A. M. Wallace, E. Belding, P.B. Lees, G.D. Gordon, E.A. Matthews, besides the following wounded- Lieutenants R. E. Lucy (who succumbed ),Willoughby, Eldred, Sparrow and Tyler. Only three officers of the Battalion were not hit, viz. Colonel Prichard (who was afterwards wounded in the lungs two and half miles behind the trenches while talking to the Brigadier), Captain Smyth and Lieutenant G.A. Parker, both of whom fell ill from the effects of being 4 days up to their waists in water.

Some of the Officers of the 2nd Battalion Northamptonshire Regiment taken prior to the Battle of Neuve Chapelle
Top Row - Capt. L.J. Robinson (killed), Lt H. Jackson, Lt. U. Rastrick (killed), Lt Cobb, Lt. R. Mayes , Lt S. Beattie, 2nd Lt. Shaw (killed)
Middle Row - Lt. Smyth , Capt L. Haldane (killed), Lt R. Lake, Capt. C. Watts (killed). Lt. O. Parker, Lt. W. Coldwell, Capt. St. J. Stocker (killed), Capt. H. Trever (killed)
Front Row - Capt A. Capell (killed), Capt C. Barton DSO., Major R. Rawlins, Col. C. Prichard DSO. (wounded), Capt H. Power (killed), Major C. Mowatt & seated on the ground Lt. A Middleton

On the night of the third day the Battalion was relieved by the Devons and Middlesex. It was heart breaking roll call that night. Out of 22 officers and 594 men who went so eagerly into action, only 4 officers and 180 men were left, the details of the casualties being : officers, 12 killed (including all the company commanders), 6 wounded; other ranks , 102 killed, 203 wounded, 109 missing. (all of whom were subsequently found to have been killed) their total casualties therefore being no fewer than 432."

Percy was probably one of the "missing", later presumed killed as his body was never recovered.

The Battle, in total, was expensive in casualties. Britain lost over 500 officers and 11,000 other ranks killed, missing or wounded from some 48,000 deployed. German losses were comparable with over 1500 taken prisoner. Percy was one of our casualties and he is buried nearby at Calais.

Percy earned the 1914-1915 Star shown on the left. He was also entitled to the British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal.

The following obituary appeared in the Essex County Standard of Saturday April 17th 1915 :-

"BOY SOLDIER KILLED - The list of killed reported from the Base, under date March 22 includes in a heavy list of casualties of the Northants Regiment, the name of private Percy Mortlock (12628), This little fellow- for he was but a boy- joined the Territorials at the end of August, only a few weeks after completing his sixteenth year. He was educated at Langenhoe School, and his father is a general dealer and cottager at Rolls Farm, Pete Tye. At the time of his enlistment he was in the employ of Mr Saville, newsagent, Mersea Road, Colchester, as cyclist distributor of newspapers in a string of many villages extending from Fingringhoe to Salcot. He assisted his father on his holding during the latter part of the day. He was known to almost everyone over a wide area of country south of Colchester and surprise has been expressed that so young a soldier should have been sent to the Front less than six months after enlistment, but we understand it was his wish to go. He was killed at the desperate action of Neuve-Chapelle"

Cemetery: LE TOURET MEMORIAL Pas de Calais, France
Grave or Reference Panel Number: Panel 28 to 30

Location: Le Touret Memorial is located at the east end of Le Touret Military Cemetery, on the south side of the Bethune-Armentieres main road. From Bethune follow the signs for Armentieres until you are on the D171. Continue on this road through Essars and Le Touret village. Approximately 1 kilometre after Le Touret village and about 5 kilometres before you reach the intersection with the D947, Estaires to La Bassee road, the Cemetery lies on the right hand side of the road. The Memorial takes the form of a loggia surrounding an open rectangular court. The court is enclosed by three solid walls and on the eastern side by a colonnade. East of the colonnade is a wall and the colonnade and wall are prolonged northwards (to the road) and southwards, forming a long gallery. Small pavilions mark the ends of the gallery and the western corners of the court. The names of those commemorated are listed on panels set into the walls of the court and the gallery, arranged by Regiment, Rank and alphabetically by surname within the rank. Over 13,000 names are listed on the memorial of men who fell in this area before 25 September 1915 and who have no known grave.

Historical Information: The Memorial in Le Touret Military Cemetery, Richebourg-l'Avoue, is one of those erected by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to record the names of the officers and men who fell in the Great War and whose graves are not known. It serves the area enclosed on the North by the river Lys and a line drawn from Estaires to Fournes, and on the South by the old Southern boundary of the First Army about Grenay; and it covers the period from the arrival of the II Corps in Flanders in 1914 to the eve of the Battle of Loos. It does not include the names of officers and men of Canadian or Indian regiments; they are found on the Memorials at Vimy and Neuve-Chapelle.

Percy is commemorated on the Peldon Memorial

References:-
"Northamptonshire & the Great War" by W. H. Holloway Chapter XV is the source of the excerpt on the Battle of Neuve Chapelle. This was kindly provided by the Northamptonshire Regiment Association along with the picture of the officers of the 2nd Battalion.
Details on Percy's grave have kindly been provided by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. His Service Records have not survived at the PRO.
The picture of Pete Tye's cottage was kindly provided by Peter Wormwell.
Details of the battle of Neuve-Chapelle & the picture of Neuve-Chapelle are from "The Great War" volume 3.

From If You Shed a Tear by Edwin Sparrow Part 1, and his Peldon Memorial Profiles.

AuthorEdwin Sparrow
SourceMersea Museum
IDIYS_009