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Albert Holmes

Private Albert Holmes, 17/1000, West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales's Own), 17th Battalion

Albert Holmes was born in Morley in 1893, the second child and elder son of four children born to Herbert Holmes and his wife Emily (nee Bedford ) who married in summer 1890 in the Dewsbury area. Sadly, Herbert died, age 26, in Spring 1897 leaving Emily, a 24 year old widow with four children under the age of eight years.

Two years later Emily married widower, Tom Baines and by 1901 the couple had two children of their own. In the same year they were living in Morley with Emily’s four children and two of their own. By 1911, Tom and Emily had a third child and the couple, with seven children had moved to live in a three-roomed home on Victoria Street Ossett. Albert was 17 years old and a trammer in a coal mine.

Albert Holmes was still living in Ossett when he enlisted at Leeds and joined the 17th Battalion, Prince of Wales’s Own (West Yorkshire) Regiment with regimental service number 17/1000. Albert was killed in action on the 30th July 1916 and was posthumously awarded the British and Victory medals, but not the 1914/15 Star indicating that Albert did not serve overseas before 31st December 1915.

The 17th (2nd Leeds Pals) Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment was raised in Leeds in December 1914 by the Lord Mayor and City, as a Bantam Battalion, from men who were under the normal regulation minimum height of 5 feet 3 inches. After initial training close to home, they joined 106th Brigade, 35th Division in June 1915 at Masham, North Yorkshire. The Division moved to Salisbury Plain for final training in August.

They were ordered to Egypt in late 1915, but the order was soon cancelled and they proceeded to France on the 1st of February 1916, landing at Le Havre, the division concentrated east of St Omer. They were in action during the Battles of the Somme at Bazentin Ridge, Arrow Head Copse, Maltz Horn Farm and Falfemont Farm.

The division received new drafts of men to replace losses suffered on the Somme, but the C.O. soon discovered that these new recruits were not of the same physical standard as the original Bantams, being men of small stature from the towns, rather than the miners and farm workers who had joined up in 1915. A medical inspection was carried out and 1,439 men were transferred to the Labour Corps. Their places being taken by men transferred from the disbanded yeomanry regiments, who underwent a quick training course in infantry methods at a Divisional depot set up specifically for that purpose.

In 1917 they were in action during The pursuit to the Hindenburg Line, at Houthulst Forest and The Second Battle of Passchendaele. On the 16th of November 1917 they left 35th Division to join XIX Corps on railway work. In December they amalgamated with 15th Battalion, West Yorks.

In July 1916, the 35th Division was deployed at Bazentin Ridge, Arrowhead Copse, Maltz Horn Farm and Faifmont Farm during the battles on the Somme. In the Guillemont area, overnight on the 29/30th July 1916, the 30th Division's soldiers were again moved up to positions in Trones Wood - Maltz Horn Trench area. The plan envisaged that these men would attack through the 35th (Bantam) Division's men (17th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment) who were still garrisoning the front lines. Whilst the 30th Division was being brought forward in darkness, the German barrage on Trones Wood increased in intensity and a number of the units were badly affected by gas and high explosive shells. It is likely that Private Albert Holmes died from the effects of the German artillery barrage and his body was never found.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission record Albert as the son of Emily Barnes[sic] (formerly Holmes) of 36, Hungerhill, Morley, Leeds, and the late Herbert Holmes. Albert is not remembered on any Ossett Memorial or Roll of Honour although there is evidence that he lived in Ossett at the time of his enlistment.

He is remembered in this 2014 biography and Roll of Honour because the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and/or the "U.K. Soldiers who Died in the Great War 1914-1918" listing records him as born or residing in Ossett.

Trones Wood 1916

Above: Map showing Trones Wood, Arrow Head Copse and Maltz Horn Farm, the area where Private Albert Holmes was killed on the 30th July 1916.

Private Albert Holmes died on the 30th July 1916, aged 23 years, son of Emily Barnes (formerly Holmes) of 36, Hungerhill, Morley, Leeds, and the late Herbert Holmes. He is remembered on Pier and Face 2 A 2 C and 2 D at the Thiepval Memorial,1 Somme, France. The Thiepval Memorial can be found on the D73, next to the village of Thiepval, off the main Bapaume to Albert road (D929).

On 1 July 1916, supported by a French attack to the south, thirteen divisions of Commonwealth forces launched an offensive on a line from north of Gommecourt to Maricourt. Despite a preliminary bombardment lasting seven days, the German defences were barely touched and the attack met unexpectedly fierce resistance. Losses were catastrophic and with only minimal advances on the southern flank, the initial attack was a failure. In the following weeks, huge resources of manpower and equipment were deployed in an attempt to exploit the modest successes of the first day. However, the German Army resisted tenaciously and repeated attacks and counter attacks meant a major battle for every village, copse and farmhouse gained. At the end of September, Thiepval was finally captured. The village had been an original objective of 1 July. Attacks north and east continued throughout October and into November in increasingly difficult weather conditions. The Battle of the Somme finally ended on 18 November with the onset of winter.

In the spring of 1917, the German forces fell back to their newly prepared defences, the Hindenburg Line, and there were no further significant engagements in the Somme sector until the Germans mounted their major offensive in March 1918.

The Thiepval Memorial, the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, bears the names of more than 72,000 officers and men of the United Kingdom and South African forces who died in the Somme sector before 20 March 1918 and have no known grave. Over 90% of those commemorated died between July and November 1916. The memorial also serves as an Anglo-French Battle Memorial in recognition of the joint nature of the 1916 offensive and a small cemetery containing equal numbers of Commonwealth and French graves lies at the foot of the memorial.

The memorial, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, was built between 1928 and 1932 and unveiled by the Prince of Wales, in the presence of the President of France, on 1 August 1932 (originally scheduled for 16 May but due to the death of French President Doumer the ceremony was postponed until August).

The dead of other Commonwealth countries, who died on the Somme and have no known graves, are commemorated on national memorials elsewhere. 

References:

1. Commonwealth War Graves Commission web site