Our First World War One Casualty - Baron Percy Gale

Elsage Farm, CheddingtonBaron Percy Gale was born in Cheddington, (well, actually Ivinghoe, since his family were running Elsage Farm at the end of Church Lane), and his birth certificate shows his birth date was 27th October 1898. He was the son of Arthur Thomas Gale and Agnes Elizabeth Gale, formerly Thompson, who was born in Norfolk. He was baptised at St Giles Parish Church, Cheddington, on 20th November 1898. I had tried to find a record of Percy in the 1901 Census of Cheddington without success, but in working on other local records I did find him in Ivinghoe - the farm at the end of Church Lane, Cheddington, is east of the railway line and therefore part of Ivinghoe parish. The Census of 1901 has him listed with an age of two years, with his parents and a brother Arthur, who was a year older.

Some time in late 1914 or in 1915, he enlisted at Watford in the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, according to a regimental list, but the date of enlistment is not known. Like so many others he must have withheld his true age. His war medal card states that on September 3rd 1915 he entered the Theatre of War that was France, and two days later, according to regimental sources, he arrived at the front in Flanders, near Ypres, to serve in "C" Company of the 5th Battalion of his regiment. On that 5th September, Percy Gale was one of a draft of thirty Non-Commissioned Officers and men joining the Battalion. Their accommodation, the practice trenches and the real front line trenches had been suffering from recent heavy rainfall - so much so that on that day it was still raining and it was too wet for Church Parade. It is likely he had five or six days in the trenches near the front line, and then a week or so away from it in reserve, when he would have been making more dugouts, physical drills, rifle exercises, musketry, bayonet-fighting, practice attacks, some made in darkness. On 17th September there was a concert and a bonfire, with the Band of the 6th Somersets playing, and each night when in reserve, forty men of the Battalion could go to the Cinema in Poperinghe, and another forty to the "Fancies" of the 6th Division.

The 5th Battalion Record of the Regimental Chronicle gives us some information on what happened next. On 23rd September his Company had reveille at 7 a.m., Voluntary Holy Communion at 8 a.m., Breakfast 8.30, Sick Parade 9.30. At 4.15 p.m. his Company paraded, and marched to Poperinghe, then went by train to Ypres. "The train consisted of open trucks, to hold 1,200 men packed like sardines, and a brake van for officers. The journey up was quite quiet. It began to drizzle at 8 p.m. The enemy sent over a large number of 77mm and 4.2-inch shrapnel into L. Farm and the field in which it stands, but every shell was a "dud"."  That night British artillery began an intense bombardment at 3.30 a.m., and lasted for an hour. Then "heavy bombardment by our guns of all sorts continued throughout the day. In further bombardment, this shelling caused British losses of some 36 men killed or wounded.

"By 2345 hours on the 24th September, his Company were ready in the trenches preparing for an assault on the ruins of Bellewaarde Farm the following day, with the action starting at 4.20 a.m, at first light. The first line of German trenches was taken, but they could not hold on to it. Captured "prisoners told us that they had been expecting our attack for three days, which accounts for the strength and rapidity of their counter-attack with fresh troops". On 25th September 51 soldiers of the regiment were killed, 270 were injured, and 144 were missing. In the Battalion Casualty Register, B. Gale was posted missing, and he was never recovered for burial. That date, 25th September, is given as the day of his death. He was still only sixteen years of age, some thirty-two days before his seventeenth birthday. The rules then stated that no soldier under nineteen should serve in a Theatre of War. He was the first soldier to be lost from Cheddington and the youngest of all our nineteen village men who lost their lives.

O&BLI BadgeThe Commonwealth War Graves Commission recorded his age as 17 years when he died, the son of the Late Arthur Gales and Agnes Fitzroy (formerly Gale), of 9 Nelson Terrace, Aylesbury . His name is commemorated on the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium. I have supplied them with a copy of his birth certificate and other evidence, and I am pleased to record that they have corrected his age to 16 (January 2007).   I acknowledge the assistance of Mike Marr of the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry Museum for access to some of the relevant regimental records.  I have also used other resources, both in print and on the Internet.

John T Smith, Cheddington History Society

© 2005-2020 Bill Perrett

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