Photograph from Cambridgeshire Times, 4th August 1916
Arthur Page was my great-grandfather. He was killed at Delville Wood on the 20th July 1916, the twentieth day of the Battle of the Somme.
Arthur was a bakery labourer in Ely, Cambridgeshire, and grew up in the Waterside district. He was the father of my grandmother Phyllis Alice Page, my father’s mother. Arthur was a Serjeant in the 2nd Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment, and his medal record shows that he arrived in France on the 26th January 1915.
The 2nd Battalion spent their first winter and spring bogged down in the trenches of the Vierstraat area of Flanders, before being returned to Billet at Westoutre on 11th April. They spent the latter part of the spring building the network of trenches in the Ypres salient,and then on June 16th they were part of the force which attacked and consolidated its hold in V Wood and Sanctuary Wood to the east of Ypres. It seems that the Battalion came under what were the first prolonged and sustained gas attacks by the Germans on British troops.
During July they returned to billet in Ypres again, but spent the rest of the summer consolidating the hold on the splendidly named Spoil Bank and Bellyache Wood, again to the west of Ypres. In general, the 2nd Suffolks seem to have spent an uneventful 1915 in Flanders, with few casualties, except for one major incident when, on September 8th, the battalion sustained more than a hundred deaths trying to capture a crater in Sanctuary Wood.
At the start of 1916, they were moved south towards St Eloi. Shortly after arriving in the area, Arthur’s brother Herbert, also with the 2nd Suffolks, was killed.
In June 1916, the 2nd Suffolks were removed completely from the fighting and returned to depot at St Omer for training in open warfare. They did not know it, but the Generals were preparing for the Big Push, designed to distract the Germans from their assault on Verdun. It would be known as the Battle of the Somme.
On July 1st, the first day of the battle, the 2nd Suffolks set out from St Omer for the Somme. They arrived at the front on July 8th, and were placed in reserve, and then on July 14th they were moved into the southern end of Caterpillar Wood, to the east of Albert. Not far off, on July 18th, the Germans attacked and, at great cost to them, overran Delville Wood and part of the town of Longueval. Two companies of the 2nd Suffolks were sent to support the counter-attack, and among them was Serjeant Arthur Page.
Shortly before first light on what would be a warm, sunny day, at 3.35am on July 20th, the Third Division of the British Army attacked Delville Wood. Chris McCarthy, in The Somme Day-by-Day, records that Early in the morning the Division made an attack on Delville Wood and village using 2nd Suffolks and 10th Royal Welsh Fusiliers. At 3.35 am the Suffolks advanced from the west, but the two leading companies were almost entirely wiped out. The Fusiliers went astray, and came under fire from a British machine-gun barrage, losing most of their officers, only to press home a fruitless attack. The casualties in the 2nd Battalion were heavy, and among those killed in the attack was Arthur Page. He was 37 years old. It seems to have been a spectacularly foolhardy action: the two companies lost no less than ten officers in the attack, one of them, a Major Congreve, later being awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross.
Arthur’s body was recovered, identified, and buried at Delville Wood cemetery in Longueval. We visited Albert in the summer of 2006, but I did not know about Arthur Page at that time, and so we did not go to Longueval. We will have to go back.
Arthur’s widow Sophia was my dad’s Grandma Sophie. It is said that when she opened the letter telling her of her husband’s death, she immediately lost her hearing, and was deaf for the rest of her life.
This, found in the newspaper archives of the Cambridgeshire Collection in Cambridge today, is the first photograph I have ever seen of him.
Tagged: , Page , Ely , Cambridgeshire , Cambs , FensIsle of Ely , Arthur Page , Herbert Page , WWI , First World War , World War One , memory remembrance killed killed , action , KIA