June to September 1916

In September we remember …

Lance Corporal Victor Charles May(18128)

11th Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment, died 8 September 1916

Lance Corporal May was born in Fairford and enlisted in Cirencester. He was the only soldier from Fairford to be killed in the Salonika theatre. Although regarded almost as a sideshow to the events in France and Flanders, the campaign in Salonika during the First World War was just as bitter and as costly to the combatants. In 1915 British and French forces joined the Serbian Army in attempting to repulse an invasion of Macedonia by Bulgarian, German and Austrian armies. Much of the fighting was concentrated in the area around Lake Doiran, some 30 miles north of Salonika. The 11th Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment arrived at Salonika on 24 November 1915 and it soon became apparent that in addition to the opposing armies, the climate, terrain and endemic disease were just as much the enemy. Early in September 1916 the 11th Battalion was holding a recently captured feature known as “Horseshoe Hill” which overlooked the village of Doldzeli, about two miles south west of Doiran. According to the regimental history of the Worcestershire Regiment, the Bulgarians caused several casualties in the first week of September when they bombarded the hill in an effort to retake their lost ground. It is likely that Victor May was killed during this bombardment. Lance Corporal May has no known grave but is commemorated on the Doiran Memorial, Greece.

In August we remember two soldiers who died at the Battle of the Somme.

Dean, Edgar Frederick, Private (30600)

1st Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment, died 1 August 1916, age 19

Private Dean was the second son of Edward and Henrietta Dean of Milton Street, Fairford. The 1st Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment had suffered severe casualties during the opening phase of the Somme offensive and was withdrawn from the line in mid-July to rest and rebuild its strength. It then moved to the Bethune sector and on 30 July took over trenches at Cuinchy near La Bassee. Private Dean was wounded, probably by artillery fire, the day after the Battalion took up its new position and died on 1 August. Edgar Dean was buried in what was then a front line soldier’s cemetery and is now the Cambrin Churchyard Extension, France. Edgar had been a grocer’s assistant in Fairford before enlisting in May 1916 and had only been in France for a fortnight before was killed.

Bennett, William, Private (26535)

10th Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment, died 19 August 1916, age 30

Private Bennett was born in Fairford and was living in Coronation Street when he enlisted in Cirencester. He was killed during the Battle of the Somme and has no known grave but is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, France.

In July we remember ….

Gardner, George, Lance Corporal (24648)

8th Battalion, Welsh Regiment, died 10 July 1916

George Gardner was born in Fairford the son of Samuel ‘Shep’ Gardner, a well known shepherd. The family name is usually written as Gardiner in most records including the baptism register which records George’s baptism in Fairford on 6 August 1886. George is listed, at age 14 as a teamsteron a farm in Fairford in the 1901 Census but by 1911 he had moved to Pontypridd, Glamorgan and was working as a coal miner. He enlisted in the Welsh Regiment at Pontypridd. The 8th Battalion arrived in Mesopotamia from Egypt in March 1916 after having been through the horrors of the Gallipoli campaign. As part of the 13th Infantry Division, the Battalion took part in an unsuccessful attempt to rescue the besieged garrison at Kut al Amara. Lance Corporal Gardner died of fever and is buried in the Amara War Cemetery in Iraq.

In June we remember ….

Chandler, Frederick William, Lance Sergeant (73877)

A” Company, 28th Battalion, Canadian Infantry (Saskatchewan) Regiment, died 6 June 1916, age 24

Lance Sergeant Chandler was the son of Joseph and Elizabeth Chandler of 7 Park Street, Fairford. On the night of 5/6 June 1916 the 28th Battalion, Canadian Infantry moved into trenches at Hooge, just to the east of Ypres, in preparation for an attack on Mount Sorrel. At 12 noon on the 6th German artillery began firing at the British and Canadian positions and the 28th Battalion’s front-line trenches were particularly badly hit. Three hours later the Germans set off four huge mines under the Canadian’s position and then charged and took the trenches of the 28th Battalion. It was reported that Lance Sergeant Chandler was “blown up in a trench” which implies that he was the victim of one of the mines. He has no known grave but is commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, Belgium. His name is also recorded on the headstone of his parents in the churchyard of St Mary’s Church, Fairford. He had emigrated to Canada before the war, which explains why he was serving with a Canadian infantry battalion.

Varney, George John, Private (23589)

1st Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment, died 20 June 1916, aged 32

Private George John Varney, known as ‘Chick’, was born in Fairford in 1885, one of 11 children of John and Ann Varney of 15 Park Street. In the 1911 census George was now working as a builder’s labourer, living with his widowed mother.

For the first half of 1916 the 1st Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment held the front line around Loos and Maroc, just north of Lens. During June the Battalion alternated between manning trenches near Calonne and resting in reserve at Bully Grenay. Although there were no major assaults in this area during the period, there was the constant danger of artillery bombardment and the history of the 1st Battalion mentions that several casualties were caused by German trench mortars at this time. Private Varney was one of 41 men of the 1st Battalion who were killed in this sector between 14 February and 4 July. He is buried in Loos British Cemetery, France.