Today I will be visiting the cenotaph in Essex with my son and his children. My son seems interested in learning about our family history, he actually took his kids to visit some of their ancestors’ graves last weekend. He is taking the kids to visit the cenotaph this afternoon and I am tagging along.
My grandfather’s younger brother, Fleming W. Hines was the first casualty of the First World War in the town of Essex and his name is on the cenotaph there.
He was born January 18, 1897 while visiting relatives in Elgin County but lived in Rochester at that time. He was the twelfth of thirteen children, the oldest being 23 years. I believe it was he and not his brother, Wm. Edgar, who, along with his sister, ate poison roots. His younger sister died within hours and the only thing that saved him was that he vomited, but he was very ill.
Fleming Wesley Hines was only seventeen when he enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces in 1915. He didn’t think he was old enough to enlist so there are two sets of attestation papers, both with incorrect birth years. By the time that he was called to duty, he was eighteen.
He served with the 2nd Canadian Expeditionary Forces and fought in the Battle of the Somme, a three month long offensive which was fought in the trenches from July to October.
Private Fleming W. Hines was severely wounded on September 15th, in what is known as the Battle of Flers-Courcelette. This day was the first time that tanks were used on the battlefield. Private Fleming Hines died of his wounds on September 18, 1916 in the Etaples Military Hospital and is buried in the Etaples Military Cemetery.
In early September the French Tenth Army under Micheler joined the attack on a 20 kilometre front to the south. Meanwhile the British attack was renewed in north-east, the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, by the Fourth Army on 15 September. This latter attack made use of tanks for the first time and deployed 15 divisions of men; even so, it gained under a kilometre of ground.
These first tanks, which totalled 50, were sourced from the Machine Gun Corps, 'C and 'D' Companies, and reached the Somme in September. Mechanical and other failures reduced the original number of participating tanks from 50 to 24. Whilst they achieved a large measure of shocked surprise when sprung upon the German opposition, these early tanks proved unwieldy and highly unreliable.
The tanks were rolled out at 06:20 on the morning of 15 September. General Gough's forces moved to force the enemy off the northern end of the main ridge and away from Fourth Army.
Rawlinson's troops were to break through the remaining enemy trench system while the French Sixth Army would attempt to clear the enemy from the British right flank. Meanwhile the Canadians were northwest of the Albert-Bapaume road and outpaced their seven tanks to capture Courcelette. Immediately south of them, the 15th Scottish Division, helped by a single tank, captured Martinpuich.
To the southeast, however, German forces in High Wood swept the ground with fire from each end, halting a number of tanks. Others found themselves lost, while yet others fired on their own infantry.
To the east progress to Flers was helped by the arrival of four tanks at a critical moment, the ruined village falling to a single tank assisted by mixed platoons of Hampshires and Royal West Kents.
from Sir Douglas Haig’s Somme Despatch:
The Attack - 15 September
27. A methodical bombardment was commenced at 6 a.m. on the 12th September arid was continued steadily and uninterruptedly till the moment of attack.
At 6.20 a.m. on the 15th September the infantry assault commenced (13) and at the same moment the bombardment became intense. Our new heavily armoured cars, known as "Tanks," now brought into action for the first time, successfully co-operated with the infantry, and coming as a surprise to the enemy rank and file, gave valuable help in breaking down their resistance.
The advance met with immediate success on almost the whole of the front attacked. At 8.40 a.m. tanks were seen to be entering Flers, followed by large numbers of troops. Fighting continued in Flers for some time, but by 10.0 a.m. our troops had reached the north side of the village, and by midday had occupied the enemy's trenches for some distance beyond.
On our right our line was advanced to within assaulting distance of the strong line of defence running before Morval, Les Boeufs and Gueudecourt, and on our left High Wood was at last carried after many hours of very severe fighting, reflecting great credit on the attacking battalions of the 47th Division. Our success made it possible to carry out during the afternoon that part of the plan which provided for the capture of Martinpuich and Courcelette, and by the end of the day both these villages were in our hands (taken respectively by the 15th Division, and 2nd Canadian Division, Maj.- Gen. R. E. W. Turner).
On the 18th September the work of this day was completed by the capture by the 6th Division of the Quadrilateral, an enemy stronghold which had hitherto blocked the progress of our right towards Morval. Further progress was also made between Flers and Martinpuich.
28. The result of the fighting of the 15th September and following days was a gain more considerable than any which had attended our arms in the course of a single operation since the commencement of the offensive. In the course of one day's fighting we had broken through two of the enemy's main defensive systems and had advanced on a front of over six miles to an average depth of a mile.
In the course of this advance we had taken three large villages, each powerfully organised for prolonged resistance. Two of these villages had been carried by assault with short preparation in the course of a few hours' fighting. All this had been accomplished with a small number of casualties in comparison with the troops employed, and in spite of the fact that, as was afterwards discovered, the attack did not come as a complete surprise to the enemy. (14)
The total number of prisoners taken by us in these operations since their commencement on the evening of the 14th September amounted at this date to over 4,000, including 127 officers.