7 May 2010



Lance Corporal L/6927, 2nd Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment
Killed in Action Sunday 9th May 1915
Commemorated: Le Touret Memorial, Pas de Calais, Panels 20 and 21

John Green is one of the men named on the war memorial who remains a bit of a mystery - I started the research on him feeling that it would be very straightforward, but despite having many concrete facts, it has not been possible to establish who his parents were or find any family connections. The information given by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission includes the fact that he was thirty years old at the time of his death in 1915, and married to Mary E. Green of Myrtle Cottages, Lancing. 'Soldiers who Died in the Great War' CD gives his place of birth as Lancing, Sussex, but the parish registers show no evidence of a John Green being baptised in the village, and despite Green being a common surname, the census returns throughout 1841-1901 show very few Greens and none that have any apparent connections to John Green. His army service number and his date of entry into France - 12th August 1914 - indicate that he was a regular soldier before the war, and was either serving at the declaration of war, or had previously left the army but remained on the Reserve. Luckily this was one puzzle that the parish registers did solve, as an entry for 1st March 1914 shows the baptism of a daughter, Elsie Mary, to John and Mary Ellen Green, John's occupation being given as a carter. This proved that he was not in the army at that time, but had been a pre-war regular with the Royal Sussex Regiment, and had been recalled to his unit when war was declared.
[Information from Paul Nixon in the first comment below, shows that John Green joined the Royal Sussex Regiment on or very shortly after the 7th October 1902. Assuming that his term of engagement was for seven years 'with the colours' and five years on the reserve, his commitment would have ended in October 1914, two months after the outbreak of war. Even if he was no longer a reservist, could an ex-regular have chosen not to re-enlist? Probably not.]

The Royal Sussex Regiment, as part of 1st Division, were among the first battalions to set foot in France, and were involved in much action as the division worked its way to Mons, the Marne, the Aisne, and back up to Ypres. The action that became known as the Battle of Aubers Ridge took place on May 9th 1915, and the 2nd Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment were in the first wave of troops to leave the trenches at Richebourg L'Avoué. The issue of tea and rum at 3.30 a.m. was probably the only good part of the day, as from 5.30 a.m. when the first men advanced over the parapet, the day became an unmitigated disaster. Many were killed or wounded even before they got clear of the parapet, or were hit within a few yards of their first-line trench. The battalion war diary, held at The National Archives [WO95/1269] gives a controlled, descriptive account of the day, and rarely even hints at the chaos and difficulties that must have been encountered. The total casualties for the battalion that day were 14 officers and 548 other ranks, of whom 101 were killed and 118 'missing' - men whose whereabouts were not accounted for. Among those men was John Green, regular soldier, Lancing carter, husband of Mary and father of Elsie. Like so many of his comrades he has no known grave and is named on the Le Touret Memorial to the Missing, which commemorates more than 13,000 men who died in that area before the 25th September 1915, and whose last resting place is unknown.

Le Touret Cemetery and Memorial



Paul Nixon said...

L/6922 joined the Royal SUssex Regt on the 7th Oct 1902 and so John Green would have joined either the same day or shortly afterwards. He would have been a couple of months short of Reserve commitment when Britain went to war in August 1914.

Sue Light said...

I've always felt some affinity with John Green. My own father was a reservist with the 2nd Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment, at the start of the Second World War. And I know with certainty that he was rather pleased to go back. Once a soldier...