Posted by: michaeldaybath | May 17, 2016

An incident near Thiepval Wood

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Second Lieutenant Henry Grove Morton Mansel-Pleydell. © IWM (HU 117893)
Source: http://media.iwm.org.uk/iwm/mediaLib/425/media-425068/standard.jpg

The 17th July 2016 is the 100th anniversary of one of the stranger events in the history of the Dorsetshire Regiment in the First World War. The 1st Battalion were in the line on the Somme front near Thiepval Wood, quite close to where they would later attack on the 1st July. In the late morning, without prior warning, two officers, Captain William Algeo and Second Lieutenant Henry Mansel-Pleydell entered no-man’s land and did not return, evidently having encountered a German patrol (or perhaps trap). Then Sergeant William Goodwillie, one of the two sergeants sent to investigate what was going on, lost touch with his comrade and also disappeared in the confusion.

Sergeant Major Ernest Shephard would later recount the events of that morning in his diary [1]:

Wednesday 17th May 1916
A fairly quiet night. I took trench duty from 6.30 a.m. to 9.30 a.m. A fine day, very hot. A great calamity befell my Company and myself at 10 a.m. The enemy trenches opposite run behind a small wood which we call Diamond Wood. Since we have been in this sector the Intelligence Officer went out 2 days ago and brought some iron plates back belonging to enemy. Yesterday afternoon at 4 p.m. in broad daylight Captain Algeo went out from Hammerhead sap and went into the enemy wood smoking his pipe quite cool, returning an hour later. At 10 a.m. this morning, without saying anything, Captain Algeo and Lt Mansell-Pleydell (The Intelligence Officer) went out from the sap. They were seen crossing ‘No Man’s Land’ between sap and wood. When nearly up to edge of wood M-P was seen to beckon, and he and Captain ran into wood. There was a scuffle and Captain Algeo was heard shouting ‘Hands up, hands up, put it down.’ A volley of rifle fire and revolver shots followed, a scream, silence. I heard the commotion and ran up to sap. On finding out the cause I decided it was madness to attempt a rescue party as the enemy would be waiting under cover of the wood, with every advantage. I ordered extra sentries up, and no firing except at enemy plainly seen. (I thought there was a chance that they had been wounded or situated in a position where they could not move.) I ran to Bn HQ and reported, also asked that our artillery should be warned not to fire on the area. The CO was very upset, and gave me permission to send a man to reconnoitre to see if any signs of them. He also ordered me not to go myself on any account, although I wished to do so. I returned to sap and Sgt Goodwillie (the Pioneer Sgt and very well liked by Captain) was given permission to go out, and Sgt Rogers to follow a little way behind. They went out through valley on left of sap, and entered wood safely. A lot of revolver shooting took place, and after ½ hour Rogers returned alone to say he had lost Goodwillie, as he pushed on too quickly. Rogers heard a lot of jabbering and shooting, could see no sign of the Captain, M-P or Goodwillie, so he returned. The CO had meanwhile come up and he ordered that no one should be allowed in ‘No Man’s Land’ for further reconnoitring. We kept a sharp lookout all day and at dusk sent out a patrol who reported that the enemy were working on forward edge of wood. Realised no more could be done, only thing to hope is that they were taken prisoner, and not killed, although I fear the latter, as they were not the sort to give in. The loss of my gallant Captain to the Battalion, my Company, and myself cannot be estimated. He was the bravest officer I have met, first and last thought was for the good and honour of the Bn, his Coy and his men.
‘An officer and a gentleman.’

To provide some context, several days previously, on the night of the 7th/8th May, the Dorsets had suffered several casualties in a raid on their lines near Hammerhead Sap. As Shephard has noted, Captain Algeo had already made one foray into no-man’s land, “smoking his pipe quite cool.” In his Battlefield Europe guide to Thiepval, Michael Stedman speculates that Captain Algeo was trying to re-establish a “confident and offensive spirit amongst his men,” taking into account the effect of the raid a week-or-so earlier [2]. While Sergeant Major Shephard still hoped at the time that his comrades had been taken prisoner, all three had died and were later buried with full military honours in the presence of the regimental commander of Reserve-Infanterie Regiment Nr. 99 [3]. The three are now buried together in Miraumont Communal Cemetery in France.

Whatever the exact circumstances, it is difficult to disagree with Stedman’s conclusion that it would have been “a matter of considerable embarrassment to a Regular battalion that recklessness had led to the needless loss of experienced and crucial figures” [4].

War Memorial Tablet, St Nicholas's Church, Studland (Dorset)

The War Memorial tablet in St Nicholas’s Church, Studland (Dorset)

Captain William Bensley Algeo was the only son of the Reverend Frederick Swift Algeo, the Rector of Studland, and Georgena Thornton Algeo (née Mostyn). He was born at Torquay on the 3rd November 1887, and educated at St. Lawrence College, and Lincoln College, Oxford. He joined the Dorsetshire Regiment in September 1910, being promoted captain in 1914. According to a short newspaper obituary, Captain Algeo had been twice mentioned in dispatches, and he had also been awarded the Military Cross [5]. His name features on the war memorial at the Church of St Nicholas, Studland.

War Memorial Cross at Winterborne Whitechurch

The War Memorial cross at Winterborne Whitechurch (Dorset), featuring the names of Henry Grove Morton Mansel-Pleydell, M.C. and his elder brother

Second Lieutenant Henry Grove Morton Mansel-Pleydell was the son of the late Lieutenant-Colonel Edmund Morton Mansel-Pleydell (12th Lancers) and Emily Kathleen Mansel-Pleydell (née Grove) of Whatcombe House, near Winterborne Whitechurch, Dorset. I have already mentioned on this blog that 2nd Lieut. Mansel-Pleydell had previously won the Military Cross for his actions at Hill 60 (Ypres) on the 5th May 1915 [6]. His MC citation read [7]:

Second Lieutenant Henry Grove Morton Mansel-Pleydell, 3rd (attached 1st) Battalion, The Dorsetshire Regiment.
Showed gallantry and ability on “Hill 60,” near Ypres, on 5th May 1915. Although wounded early in the attack, he commanded his platoon in the trenches (which had been vacated by the unit holding them in the morning) with great skill and coolness, and later took charge of the whole of his company after his Captain had been wounded.
It was largely due to him that a considerable length of trench, which had been occupied by the enemy, was gradually regained.

According to a short newspaper obituary, Henry had been promoted temporary Lieutenant in February 1916 [8].

Henry (Harry) had been born in Blandford district (presumably Whatcombe) in 1895, and was baptised on the 11th July at Winterborne Clenston. The family, however, were based for much of Henry’s childhood in Morocco, and his mother Kathleen wrote a book about their life there  [9]. Henry studied at Marlborough College from 1909-13. In November 1916, The schoolmaster John Bain published a poem in  his memory in the school journal, The Marlburian  [10]:

In Memory of Lieut H.G.M. Mansel-Pleydell, M.C. Killed in Action

We never spoke together he and I
Save one time only. In the old Court one night,
After a Field-day, I ran out to see
The Corps come marching in, and there he stood,
Leaning upon his rifle — then we spoke
And as he stood there, in myself I thought -–
So young and brave he looked, and talked so grim
Of blows and battlings with his prisoners –-
Were I a fighter, I would love to see
That boy beside me; a born fighter that,
Fearing nor man, nor devil. Then the war
Burst -– he was wounded and I wrote a line.
Back from Hill 60 came an answer straight,
Himself his Censor : from that ledge of Death
Grimly he wrote as when he spoke in Court.
“Wounded? O yes, but not a proper wound :
It only grazed the temple –- a close shave!
Been five weeks on the Hill, thro’ all the gassing,
And Captain for a month now : tell the Major
I’m not disgracing the old O.T.C.”
*****
Soon came the wound, brave heart, the proper wound.

J.B. [John Bain]

Henry and his older brother Edmund (who died at Kemmel (near Ypres) on 12th March 1915, while attached to the Worcestershire Regiment) are both commemorated on the war memorials at Winterborne Whitechurch and Broadstone. Henry features in the Marlborough College roll of honour [11] and his name is (presumably) recorded in the school’s elegant Memorial Hall. Memorial services were held in Henry’s honour at both Winterborne Whitechurch and Winterborne Kingston in June 1916, the newspaper reports observing that Henry’s mother and two sisters had suffered terribly from bereavement over the past few years [12].

Sergeant William Goodwillie was not a native of Dorset. He had been born at Alverstoke, Hampshire in 1873 and baptised there on the 1st June the same year. He was the son of John James Goodwillie (a cooper) and Eliza Goodwillie. William joined the Hampshire Regiment at Winchester in March 1890, but later served for many years with the 1st Battalion, Dorsetshire Regiment. He was discharged in 1911 at Blackdown on the termination of his second period of engagement. In the meantime, William had married Mabel Mary Pettitt at Colchester in April 1908 (they eventually had three children). By 1914, the family were living at 18 Glencoe Road, Portsmouth. After the outbreak of war, William Goodwillie re-joined the army at Portsmouth in November 1914, when he was 42 years old, and he again became a pioneer sergeant in the 1st Dorsets. In the regimental history [13], Lieutenant Colonel J. V. Shute reported that, “We were never very long in a new place before he [Goodwillie] knew where anything of use could be found. He provided cooking ranges and stoves in the trenches, beds and furniture for the dugouts – in fact, it was only necessary to say that something was required for Sergt. Goodwillie to produce it. He should not have gone “over the top,” but the thought of anything having happened to these two officers was too much for him – they were so popular with all ranks.”

Sergeant Goodwillie has a memorial plaque in St Mary’s Church, Portsea:

IN MEMORY OF
SERGT. WILLIAM GOODWILLIE
1ST DORSET REGT
KILLED IN ACTION NEAR THIEPVAL, FRANCE
17TH MAY 1916
HE GAVE HIS LIFE IN AN GALLANT ATTEMPT
TO SAVE TWO OF HIS FELLOW OFFICERS

His name is also commemorated on the main City of Portsmouth War Memorial (Guildhall Square), the memorial in St Wilfrid’s Church, Portsmouth, and on the wall of the Gosport Masonic Hall [14].

I hope to get to Miraumont later this year to visit the graves of these three brave men.

Update, 21 May 2016:

After publishing this post, I was reminded on Twitter that Henry Mansel-Pleydell had at some point played for Rosslyn Park FC; his name features on the club’s war memorial, which was unveiled in 2014. In the regimental history of the Dorsetshire Regiment, Major Dudley Ward noted that Henry was a fine sportsman, although he also commented that Mansel-Pleydell had a cheerful disposition that “enabled him to create a light-hearted atmosphere under the most appalling conditions” [15].

In the regimental history, Dudley Ward describes William Algeo as, “a most gallant and capable officer; fearless, resolute, indefatigable, he was one of the finest of soldiers.” His account also describes how Algeo was just about to take up a staff appointment, on the personal insistence of his commanding officer. Mary Ellen Freeman has commented that, “Algeo was most irresolute at the prospect of leaving both his men and active service in the line; his command had always been typified by a ‘hands-on’ approach which led from the front and by example, commanding enormous respect and affection from his men” [16].

References

[1] Ernest Shephard, A Sergeant-Major’s War: From Hill 60 to the Somme, ed. Bruce Rossor (Ramsbury: Crowood Press, 1987), pp. 96-97.

[2] Michael Stedman, Thiepval (Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military, 2000), p. 45.

[3] Jack Sheldon, The Germans at Beaumont Hamel (Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military, 2006), pp. 140-141.

[4] Stedman, op cit., p. 46.

[5] Newcastle Journal, 26 June 1916, p. 3.

[6] The Dorsetshire Regiment at Hill 60, May 1915. Opusculum, 5 May 2014: https://opusculum.wordpress.com/2015/05/05/dorsets-at-hill-60/

[7] Edinburgh Gazette, No. 12826, 6 July 1915, p. 975: https://www.thegazette.co.uk/Edinburgh/issue/12826/page/975

[8] Newcastle Journal, 5 September 1916, p. 7.

[9] Kathleen Mansel Pleydell, Sketches of Life in Morocco (London: Digby, Long & Co., 1907): https://archive.org/details/sketcheslifeinm00plegoog

[10] J. B. [John Bain], “In Memory of Lieut H.G.M. Mansel-Pleydell, M.C. Killed in Action,” The Marlburian, 51(767), 22 November 1916, p. 167; also reprinted in: J. A. Mangan, “In Memoriam: The Great War – John Bain, elegist of lost boys and lost boyhood,” The International Journal of the History of Sport, 28(3-4), 2011, pp. 492-530. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09523367.2011.546163

[11] Marlborough College, Roll of Honour: http://archive.marlboroughcollege.org/

[12] Western Gazette, 30 June 1916, p. 3.

[13] Dudley Ward, History of the 1st Battalion, in: History of the Dorsetshire Regiment, 1914-1919 (Dorchester: Henry Ling; London: Simpkin Marshall, 1932), part 1, pp. 1-153, here p. 87.

[14] Sergeant William Goodwillie: http://masonicgreatwarproject.org.uk/writeup.php?string=1197

[15] History of the Dorsetshire Regiment, 1914-1919, p. 87

[16] Mary Ellen Freeman, Poets & pals of Picardy: a weekend on the Somme (Barnsley: Leo Cooper, 1999), p. 51.

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Responses

  1. […] [3] “An incident near Thiepval Wood,” Opusculum, 17 May 2016: https://opusculum.wordpress.com/2016/05/17/incident-near-thiepval-wood/ […]

  2. Thank you for this post. I am the Great Grandson of William Goodwillie. Next week I am travelling to Miraumont to pay my respects to him.

    Jonny Goodwillie

  3. […] lived for many years, and at Lincoln College, Oxford (a memorial that also contains the name of W. B. Algeo, a Captain in the 1st Battalion, Dorsetshire Regiment). Personal memorials include a […]


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