Trooper Fred Adcock

Yeomanry Private Fred John Adcock 1642
‘A’ Squadron
1st/1st Lincolnshire Yeomanry
Egyptian Expeditionary Force
Killed-in-Action  –  30 August 1917
Goz-el-Basal, Palestine

Adcock Port copy

In 1848 Henry Adcock married Betsey Warne of Baston and settled in Corby. Henry came from Market Harborough where his father Josiah was a butcher. Henry was first a butcher but over the years became landlord of the Bull Inn in the Market Place and finally a timber merchant.   Henry and Betsey had 3 sons, Charles Henry b.1849, Daniel and Harry b.1864. In 1881 the family was living at the Bull Inn, Charles Henry and Daniel were timber merchants and Harry was a butcher.

Harry Adcock married Matilda Catherine Bish in 1892. Catherine was from another of Corby’s longstanding families her grandparents John and Catherine Bish were both born in Corby around 1794. Harry and Catherine had 3 sons, Harry jnr, Percy and lastly Fred b.1895. They also had a daughter, Matilda. By 1901 they were living at Grange Farm, Irnham Road and Harry snr. was recorded as a butcher, farmer and timber merchant.

By 1911 Harry snr. had his own sawmill at the Irnham end of the High Street. Harry jnr. age 18 was working in the sawmill and Percy age 17 was working on the farm. Fred age 16 is not recorded on the census although his obituary states that he helped his father on the farm. On the 8th Nov 1913 Fred and his older brothers joined ‘A’ squadron of the Lincolnshire Yeomanry based at Grantham.

As well as the 3 brothers, their cousin Charles Adcock and Thomas William Henry ‘Harry’ Musson joined on the same day. Their service numbers were consecutive 1641 to 1645. Charles was the only son of Charles Henry and Martha Jane Adcock nee Staniland. In 1911 Charles Henry was living in the Market Place and recorded as timber merchant and employer, his son Charles age 14 was helping to run the business.  Harry Musson was the son of William Henry and Anne Musson living at the Bull Inn in 1911. William Henry was a farmer as was his grandfather William Musson born in Corby in 1810. Harry Musson was working on his father’s farm in 1911.

Group Bugler copyLeft-to-right: Harry Musson, Fred Adcock, Bugler Gibson, Charles & Percy Adcock (photo Corby Glen History Society)

On 5 Aug 1914 the Yeomanry mobilised and all the men reported for duty. The Yeomanry then followed the territorial pattern of recruiting beyond full strength until it could split into 2 elements. The 1st/1st Regiment went overseas in October 1915, whilst the 2nd/1st formed in September 1914 remained in the UK, training and supplying replacements to the 1st/1st. In August 1917 the 2nd/1st converted to a cyclist unit.

Fred & his nag copy
Above: Fred at the farm Corby after collecting his mobilisation equipment
(Photo: Corby Glen History Society)

On 21 November the Grantham Journal reported that 4 more Corby men George Johnson, Edward Lambert, Frank Parker and Ernest Ballard [sic] Bolland had also joined the Yeomanry.

In 1911, George Johnson, b.1890 in Ufford, worked as a grocer’s assistant in Willerton’s shop in the square. Edward “Ted” Lambert, b. Corby 1897, was living in Pridmore’s Yard employed as a farm labourer. Frank Parker, b.1896 Corby, was living at Glen Villas and employed as a butcher’s errand boy. Ernest Bolland, b.1895 Leeds, was living in the High Street and employed as a farm labourer. George did not serve overseas, Frank transferred to the Tank Corps and was wounded on 4 November 1918 whilst serving with the 9th Tank Battalion, Ernest was transferred to the 1st Infantry Battalion and served on the Western Front.

Early in 1915 the regiment moved to Norfolk on home defence duty and to continue training, it was not until 27 October that they left for overseas. They sailed from Southampton bound for Salonika on the His Majesty’s Transport Mercian. On board were about 500 men including Fred, Charles and Percy Adcock, Harry Musson and Edward Lambert. After passing Gibraltar they took part in an unexpected action for a cavalry unit. Few of them could have dreamt that the first time they fired their guns in anger it would be at a submarine.

The 6,305 tons steamship Mercian was built in 1908 by Harland & Wolff, Belfast. In 1915 it was in use as a fruit carrier with the Leyland Line until requisitioned to transport troops. Under its master Captain C J Walker it had been supporting the Gallipoli campaign since April 1915. The voyage across the Bay of Biscay was unpleasant not just for the men but the horses housed in wooden stalls on deck. It was a welcome relief to anchor off Gibraltar on 2 November even if confined to remain onboard.

Mercian Horse stalls copy

The wooden horse stalls are clearly visible on the deck of the Mercian (Lincolnshire Life)

On 3 November at 8:30am the Mercian continued its voyage east into the Mediterranean.  The U-38 running on the surface intercepted them at 2:15pm approaching from the port quarter (behind and left). It engaged the steamer using its 88mm deck gun, the U-boat could only carry 6 torpedoes and the gun was the preferred weapon for ‘easy’ prey. Its third shot destroyed the signals room. Confusion reigned, part of the crew panicked taking to the lifeboats and a few of the troopers thinking it was official went with them. This left the Captain Walker short of crew but men from ‘D’ Sqn from Grimsby had enough sea-going background to step into the void. The evasive zigzag action under Captain Walker reduced the hit rate to one shell in 5 and the Yeomanry’s 2 heavy machine guns were brought into action.

U38 copyThe U-38, the first adversary of the Lincolnshire Yeomanry (Oberleutnant zur See Hans Wendlandt)

Normally the U-boat would close up to its ‘unarmed’ prey to a point where it could not miss. However, as can be seen from the photograph, the deck gun on the U-boat was quite exposed and several hundred rounds a minute falling about it would discourage any gun-crew. When the MG was set to max elevation its bullets were lethal up to 4,000m even if accuracy deteriorated. Forced out to this range the effectiveness of the U-boat’s unstabalised deck gun would be limited, particulary if there was a pitching sea.

90 minutes into the duel the Mercian was beginning to pull away from its adversary and the outcome was that the U-boat departed in search of easier prey. Submerging and using its torpedoes was not an option as the steamer could outrun the submerged U-boat. On 4 November the U-38 torpedoed the French troopship ‘Le Calvados’ which sank with the loss of 740 men. Whilst on patrol from 3 – 9 November the U-38 sank 14 ships and damaged one.(U-boat.net)

Capt Walker (2) copy 2Captain C J Walker. His skill averted a disaster for Lincolnshire (Lincolnshire Life)

The war diary records 22 men killed, 55 wounded, 22 missing and 19 horses killed. The dead and one of the wounded that succumbed were buried at sea as the Mercian made for Oran and repairs. 9 more died of wounds in Oran including Lord Kesteven, Capt Sir Thomas Carew Trollope. All but 5 of the missing were picked up in the lifeboats on 5 November and taken to Gibraltar. The body of Sgt Charles Walker was recovered off Spain and buried initially at Estapona before being moved to the CWGC cemetery Bilbao.

After 5 days in Oran the Mercian resumed its journey but by now events in Salonika had changed and the new destination was Egypt. The Yeomanry arrived in Alexandria on 22 Nov 1915 and deployed against the Senussi Arabs who were in revolt in the west of Egypt. The Bedouin Senussi Arabs were a religious sect occupying east Libya and western Egypt that were actively encouraged to rebel by the Ottomans to coincide with an Ottoman attack on the Suez canal.  The Western Frontier Force was formed on 11 Dec 1915. One element moved along the coast towards the border whilst the other element moved southwest to defend Cairo & Suez. The latter force included the 1st/1st North Midland Mounted Brigade including the Lincolnshire Yeomanry.

Palestine V5 copy Map showing the Al-Fayoum Oasis (19 Location of Goz-el-Basal)

On 1 Dec the Lincolns moved to El Azab in the Al-Fayoum Oasis where they spent Christmas (alternative spellings Faiyoum, Faiyum, Fayyum).  The Oasis was a 1000km2 basin, watered by the Nile and cultivated with cereals and cotton. The average temperature under canvas was about 120oF a far cry from the UK October recently departed. However they discovered an unexpected helper with sanitation, “the beetles were enormous. They came out at night and could propel all the horse-droppings a considerable distance then, having buried all traces, the horse lines were completely cleared”(Wintringham).

The Senussi were active in the Siwa and Bahariya Oasis and Al-Fayoum was ideally placed between them and Cairo. From here the Squadrons took it in turns to go out and patrol the desert. The patrols were largely uneventful as the action was confined to the coast towards Marsa Matruh. Up to the end of March 1916 the Regiment had not suffered any fatalities. By March 1916 the rebellion was crushed and with the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force back from Gallipoli the Army re-organised. The Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) was formed on 10 March 1916.

Sphinx & Camels copy

Above: A break from the patrols and change of transport for a visit to the Sphinx, Percy Adcock 2nd from the left, Harry Musson far right. (Photograph Desmond Adcock, Corby Glen History Society presentation)

The 1st/1st North Midland Mounted Brigade was re-designated the 22nd Mounted Brigade and remained part of the Western Frontier Force west of the canal until February 1917 when it joined the ANZAC Mounted Division. In the latter half of 1916 the ANZAC Mounted Division formed part of the Desert Mounted Column that pursued the Ottoman forces back along the north coast of the Sinai to the Egyptian border. The Yeomanry crossed the canal and arrived at Romani on 12 December. There it continued training and in January 1917 was issued with the Hotchkiss light machine gun. On 31 January it moved to Bir-el-Abd to join up with the ANZAC Mounted Division

General Allenby arrived to take command in Egypt. Allenby formed the Desert Mounted Corps (DMC) in August 1917. It consisted of 3 Mounted divisions, the ANZAC, Australian and Yeomanry. The Yeomanry Mounted Division consisted of 3 Mounted Brigades (6, 8 & 22) and 1 Brigade of the Royal Horse Artillery. 22 Mounted Brigade was made up of the Staffordshire, Lincolnshire and East Riding of Yorkshire Regiments. The Lincolns duly departed the ANZACs and joined the Yeomanry Mounted Division at El Fukhari (El Fuqari). This move was to deprive them of participation in one of the greatest WW1 cavalry charges at Beersheba later in the year.

Allenby planned to outflank the Atawine line by capturing Beersheba at its eastern end. This would then enable him to roll the line up towards Gaza on the coast and cut the supply route to Jerusalem.

Yeo Aug 1917 copy Map of area of operations prior to the battle of Beersheba

The British defensive line started on the coast opposite Gaza and then cutback to Wadi el Ghuzze following it to Shellal. The Ottoman line was very heavily defended from Gaza through Atawine as far as Wadi Esh Sheria. Another heavily defended line protected the west of Beersheba. An outpost line linked the 2 main defence lines. The area between Shellal and Beersheba was a vast undulating no-mans-land patrolled by cavalry units of both sides. In preparation for the battle the DMC started to reconnoiter the approaches to Beersheba assessing enemy defences and most importantly looking for sources of water.

The Regiment was based at El Fukhari until 19 Aug when it moved to El Shauth. Up to this date it had still not lost a man in action since its arrival in Egypt. However on 15 April in an incident reminiscent of the Mercian, 9 replacements on the way out from the UK were lost when the troopship HMT Arcadian was torpedoed and sunk off Crete by the U-74.

From El Shauth it mounted daily patrols reaching out to Wadi Imleih. On 22 August the Regiment moved out to take up a position from El Buggar (El Buqqar) to Rashid to cover reconnaissance by the Division’s commander, General Barrow. On 23 Aug it reached Rashid Bek having watered at Bir el Esani. The hilly terrain was broken up by gullies/wadis and the largest are shown on the map. By avoiding the ridges a Squadron (120 troopers) could move around out of sight however the prospect of an ambush was a constant threat. The 2 pictures below were taken in the vicinity of Bir el Esani.

B el Esani 1 copy

Above: The Wadi near Bir el Esani

Below: The surrounding terrain (photographs courtesy of Carmel Horowitz)

B el Esani 2 copy
On 24 Aug the regiment moved to Wadi Khazali to cover a further reconnaissance by the DMC commander Lt-Gen Chauvel. These patrols continued from El Shauth until 30 August when the regiment moved out to cover an operation by the East Riding Regiment. It arrived at GOZ El BASAL at 04:15 where 3hrs later it was attacked by 3 enemy aircraft that dropped 21 bombs killing Private Joseph Beck, from Sleaford, and 13 horses. Another 8 men and 6 horses were wounded, Fred Adcock amongst them. The Regiment returned to El Shauth at 11:00 where Fred died of wounds.

Fred's Grave copyBelow: The original graves of Fred Adcock and Joseph Beck in the Desert. After the war they were moved to the CWGC military cemetery at Beersheba. (Photograph Desmond Adcock Corby History society presentation)

Over the next 2 months the preparation continued and a line of defensive posts was established from Wadi Imleih south onto the ridge east of El Buggar. Behind this line the railway was extended out to Karm. Water tanks were installed at locations such as Bir el Esani, 150,000 gallons and Karm station, 340,000 gallons. As the attack on Beersheba approached it was vital to prevent the enemy cavalry penetrating the line to discover the preparations or the troops as they moved into position. The Yeomanry Division established a line of posts from Wadi Imleih down to the Buggar ridge and beyond to prevent any incursions.

On 1 November all the preparation paid off with the successful capture of Beersheba. The attack culminated in a cavalry charge by Regiments of the Australian Light Horse. The Lincolnshire Yeomanry did not take part in the battle; the war dairy records that they left Shellal at 0300 to hold the outpost line at Abu Shauwish near El Girheir where they remained until 4 Nov when they moved to Karm. On 5 Nov they moved to Beersheba and joined the pursuit of the Ottoman army as it moved north.

Yeo Nov-Dec 17 copyMap: The movement of the Lincolnshire Yeomanry Nov & Dec 1917

In the main the Lincolns were involved in small skirmishes however on 15 November they took part in the attack and capture of the village of Abu Shusha (Abu Shushae). After approaching on horseback they dismounted and made a 2mile advance on foot. This form of attack effectively reduced their numbers by 25%, as each 3 dismounted horses needed a mounted trooper to lead them away and wait out the attack. Casualties were 1 trooper killed and 5 wounded. On 17 November they reached Ludd (Lydda, Lod) the birthplace of Saint George. At this stage the advance changed direction to the East to cut off the city of Jerusalem.

This change greatly affected the conditions for men and horses as they climbed into the Judean Hills. The ground was so rocky that horses had to be led or even left behind. Temperatures fell to freezing and the men were still in their desert kit. Mapping was rudimentary and the numerous hills and gullies made navigation difficult. In spite of this the advance started well and on 20 November the Regiment reached the hills northeast of Ain Arik (Ein Arik) just west of the Jerusalem-Nablus road. For the next few days they held an outpost line in case of any move by the enemy to break through towards Jerusalem.

On 28 November they were in bivouac at Tahta (Beit ‘Ur ar Tahta) when the enemy attacked in force. ‘A’ & ‘D’ Squadrons moved to the outpost line on the ridge north of the bivouac with ‘B’ Squadron above the village on Hellabi Hill (Kirbat Hallaba). The Squadrons held their ground even though outflanked and the bivouac itself came under MG fire. The enemy failed to break through but the Regiment lost 3 officers and 9 troopers killed and 3 officers and 30 troopers wounded (4 of whom subsequently died). The casualties were the heaviest suffered by the Regiment during their time in Egypt and Palestine. On 30 November the regiment was relieved and on 12 December moved to al Majdal Asqalon (Mejdel, Ascalon, Askelon) for a rest period.

The horses and men were in a sorry state after their experience in the hills and remained at Asqalon over Christmas and into the New Year. For the men the receipt of mail and parcels from home were a welcome Christmas present. Throughout the war Corby organized events to raise money for parcels that the Reverend Abbott’s wife, Lucy Abbott would dispatch to the frontlines. An auction at the church-room in 1918 brought that year’s total to £29 7s 1d. The only item that didn’t get a bid was a German gasmask!

Xmas parcels copy

Left: Charles Adcock tucking into a parcel from home. (Photo Desmond Adcock History Society presentation)

Jerusalem was captured on 9 December however the Allenby had stretched his force to the limit to achieve this goal and a lengthy period of consolidation was needed before the advance could continue. This was elongated by the German Spring offensive in March 1918 that further denuded Allenby of troops. In April the regiment was shocked to learn that it was to give up its horses and become a Machine Gun unit in France. Many of the men were still with their original ‘hunters’ that had served them faithfully since 1914. The horses were duly handed over and a memorial was erected to mark this highly emotional moment.

Mem Horses copy

The Memorial erected to mark the loss of the horses in April 1918 (Lincolnshire Life)

102 Machine Gun Battalion

The Regiment returned to Egypt where it merged with the East Riding Yeomanry to become first ‘D’ Battalion and later the 102nd MG Battalion. The new unit commenced its training on the heavy Vickers MG and on 26 May sailed on HMT Caledonia in the ‘Kaisar-i-Hind’ (Empress-of-India) convoy from Alexandria for Marseille. Memories were re-awakened when just after midnight boat stations was ordered. The U-51 had penetrated the convoy and sank the centre ship HMT Leasowe Castle carrying 3000 troops. Fortunately swift rescue action by the escorts reduced the loss of life to less than 100. The MG Battalion safely reached Marseille a few days later probably with many of the men not wanting to see a troopship ever again! It entrained on 5 June to completed training at the Étaples training base near Boulogne before moving to Wormhout where it came under the command of the First Army as army troops. Army troops were artillery, MG, infantry units etc held in reserve until needed to boost the firepower of a Division going into an attack.

Charles & Percy Adcock, Harry Musson and Edward Lambert all served on the Western Front with 102 MG Battalion. They were about to enter a new era of warfare, up until this moment the Lincolnshire Yeomanry had fewer than 60 fatalities in action, a figure that could be exceeded on a quiet day on the western front. The training was rigorous but it did enable some of the men to get home on leave for the first time since October 1915. Charles Adcock made an unannounced visit home to Corby on 6 July.

The Battalion completed its training on 31 August and was allocated to the reserve of XXII Corps at Gauchin Légal near Béthune. On 10 September it moved to Anzin to support 56 Division in the advance from Arras towards Cambrai. Its frontline strength at this stage was 31 officers and 519 men. On 26 September it supported 11 Division as they crossed the Canal-du-Nord and it was about this time that Percy Adcock was severely wounded by a shell fragment that broke his jaw. He recounted that he was ‘left for dead’ at the Dressing Station and it was only when an orderly saw some movement that they realized he was still alive. His wound required facial reconstruction however after 4 years of war this practice had improved immeasurably. Nevertheless he was left with some scarring and a stutter for the rest of his life

On 27 October it was with 49 (Western) Division at Valenciennes. By 8 Nov the Battalion had crossed the Belgian border and reached Sebourg. Charles Adcock, Harry Musson and Ted Lambert were still with the unit, just 20km from Mons, when on 11 November notification of the armistice arrived.

Sources and acknowledgements:
Ancestry.com
Grantham Journal
1st/1st Lincolnshire Yeomanry War Diaries WO 95/4445 & 4507Corby Glen History Society – Presentation notes by Desmond Adcock
U-boat.net
With the Lincolnshire Yeomanry in Egypt and Palestine – J W Wintringham,  published by Lincolnshire Life
The Campaign in the Western Desert 1915-1916 Longlongtrail.co.uk
From Gaza to Jerusalem: The Campaign for Southern Palestine 1917 – Stuart Hadaway
102Bn (Lincolnshire & East Riding Yeomanry) MGC WO 95/247/4
Notts CC Roll of Honour, Cpl H L Simpson