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Arnold Swithenbank

Private Arnold Swithenbank, 41020, Norfolk Regiment, 1st Battalion

Arnold Swithenbank was born in Savile Town, Dewsbury on the 12th August 1898, the son of Earlsheaton couple George Swithenbank and Mary (nee Barraclough) who had married at St. Peter’s Church, Earlsheaton on the 9th May 1896. George Swithenbank died in late 1910 and by 1911 his widow Mary had moved elsewhere in Savile Town with her two children, 12 year old Arnold and 3 year old Jane, to live with her in-laws, milk dealer, Stott Swithenbank and his wife Jane. A third child, Elizabeth, had born to George and Mary Swithenbank in 1896, but she died in 1899.

Luckily, Arnold Swithenbank’s army service record has survived. 18 year-old, 5' 2" tall, Arnold Swithenbank of 90, Chickenley Lane, enlisted on the 30th August 1916, just 12 days after his 18th birthday. He was posted to 'B' reserve and then to the 10th Training Reserve Battalion at Rugeley on the 21st February 1917 until the 15th June 1917, when he transferred to the 4th Training Reserve Battalion based "at home."

Arnold Swithenbank was posted for France, two months after his 19th birthday, on the 13th October 1917, arriving at at Boulogne on the same day. He was transferred to the 1st Battalion, Norfolk Regiment on the 15th October 1917 and was in the field two days later. On the 2nd September 1918, Private Swithenbank was marked 'wounded' or 'missing and died' on or since that date. His next of kin, his mother Mary Swithenbank, was notified on the 16th October 1918.

By 1919, Arnold’s widowed mother had moved to Middlestown with her daughter Jane and she moved again before January 1922 when she was living at 2, Woodbine Terrace, Durkar, Wakefield.

The 1st Battalion, Norfolk Regiment formed a unit of the 15th Infantry Brigade which, together with the 13th and 14th, formed the infantry of the 5th Division. The 5th and 3rd Divisions constituted the 2nd Corps. Other units of the 15th Infantry Brigade, who fought alongside the 1st Norfolks throughout the war, were the 1st Cheshires and 1st Bedfords.

Private Swithenbank died at the age of 20 years during the second Battle of Bapaume in the raid on Beugny village on the 2nd September 1918 by the 1st Battalion, Norfolk Regiment as part of 5th Division. The village of Beugny is some 10 kilometres north east of the French town of Bapaume. By this stage of the war, the German army was in retreat but was far from beaten. It was fighting carefully planned rear guard actions from prepared positions and it was known that the village was heavily defended.

The following account is from the War Diary of the 1st Norfolk Regiment, when Private Swithenbank lost his life on the 2nd September at Beugny:

"1.9.18 - Battalion re-organised and rested. 8pm Battalion moved to assembly positions, South of railway, between FREMICOURT & BEUGNY prior to attack on BEUGNY village and objective East of village. Shelling light, casualties nil.

2.9.18 - 5.15 a.m. Battalion attacked - objective gained, casualties slight. 11 a.m. Shelling increased. Lieut. E.O.R. BURRY wounded. 1.0 p.m. Enemy doubled back and penetrated line between the Battalion and the NEW ZEALANDERS on the right thereby forcing our two forward companies to withdraw slightly. Shelling and machine gun fire very intensive. Casualties heavy. 2Lt. J.G. Molloy killed. 4.0 p.m. New line established with the assistance of two companies of the BEDFORDS and held throughout the night."

The following account from the "History of the Norfolk Regiment" also details the operation at Beugny on the 2nd September 1918 2:

"The divisional commander has asked the commanding officer to inform all ranks of the 1st battalion of the Norfolk Regiment how much he appreciated the extraordinary good work carried out by the battalion during the operation from August 21st to September 2nd. During this time the division has recaptured a depth of over fifteen miles of enemy territory, which is more than any other division in the whole army has been able to accomplish in the same time, and has captured an enormous amount of booty and prisoners.

During the operations near Beugny village on September 2nd, the 1st battalion the Norfolk Regiment was the only battalion, out of three divisions, that reached the final objective in its entirety, and it was only due to the fact that the battalion held on throughout the night to the high ground south of the village that the village became untenable to the enemy, and he was forced to retire." 1

Captured German tanks at Fremicourt near beugny September 1918

Above: Two captured German in September 1918. 'Schnuck' (on the left) was one of two German tanks to be captured in the Fremicourt area, near Beugny and the second tank No. 528 named Hagen was captured by British troops.

Private Arnold Swithenbank died on the 2nd September 1918 and is remembered on Panel 4 of the Vis-en-Artois Memorial 2, Pas de Calais, France. Vis-en-Artois and Haucourt are villages on the straight main road from Arras to Cambrai about 10 kilometres south-east of Arras. The Memorial is the back drop to the Vis-en-Artois British Cemetery, which is west of Haucourt on the north side of the main road.

This Memorial bears the names of over 9,000 men who fell in the period from 8 August 1918 to the date of the Armistice in the Advance to Victory in Picardy and Artois, between the Somme and Loos, and who have no known grave. They belonged to the forces of Great Britain and Ireland and South Africa; the Canadian, Australian and New Zealand forces being commemorated on other memorials to the missing.

The Memorial consists of a screen wall in three parts. The middle part of the screen wall is concave and carries stone panels on which names are carved. It is 26 feet high flanked by pylons 70 feet high. The Stone of Remembrance stands exactly between the pylons and behind it, in the middle of the screen, is a group in relief representing St George and the Dragon. The flanking parts of the screen wall are also curved and carry stone panels carved with names. Each of them forms the back of a roofed colonnade; and at the far end of each is a small building.

References:

1. "History of the Norfolk Regiment: 4th August 1914 to 31st December 1918 ", by F. Loraine Petre

2. Commonwealth War Graves Commission web site