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Leonard Bell

Sergeant Leonard Bell, 200687, King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, 2nd/4th Battalion

Leonard Bell was born in Horbury in Summer 1896, the second child and eldest son of five children born to coal miner Fred Bell and his wife Harriet Ann (nee Firth) who married in late 1892. Leonard was baptised at Horbury St Paul’s and St Leonard’s Church Horbury on the 4th November 1896.

In 1901 and 1911 the family were living at Mortimer’s Buildings, Mortimer Row, Horbury where latterly Leonard, aged 15, was working in the furniture department of the local Co-operative Store.

Leonard’s Army Service record has not survived, but it is known that he enlisted in Wakefield and joined the 2/4th Battalion King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI) Regiment with regimental service number 200687. He rose to the rank of sergeant and was killed in action on the 20th November 1917. He was 21 years of age.

The Territorial 2nd/4th Battalion, KOYLI was formed at Wakefield on the 30th September 1914 as a second line unit. On the 1st March 1915 they moved to Bulwell and were attached to 187th Brigade in the 62nd (2nd West Riding) Division. They moved in April 1915 to Strensall and in May to Beverley, going on in November to Gateshead, in January 1916 to Larkhill and in June 1916 to Flixton Park near Bungay. They moved again in October 1916 to Wellingborough and landed at Le Havre, France on the 15th January 1917.

On the 20th November 1917, the opening day of a major Allied offensive, the Battle of Cambrai, the 62nd Division (2nd West Riding) broke through both the enemy’s Hindenburg Main and Support Lines, occupying Havrincourt and Graincourt, and by the end of the day had crossed the Bapaume to Cambrai road (N30). This represented an advance of 7 km in one day, an outstanding achievement at that time.

"The 62nd Division had in the line of its first objective (called the Blue Line) the village of Havrincourt, in its second (the Brown Line), it had Flesquieres and part of the Hindenburg Line to deal with. The Division attacked with the 187 Infantry Brigade on the left, the 185th on the right and 186th Brigade was in close support ready to pass through and assault further lines. Of the 187th Brigade, the 2/5th Battalion, KOYLI (Lt.-Col. B.J. Barton) was in the left of the front line; the 2/4th (Lt.-Col. R.E. Power) in the right.

On the 17th November the two KOYLI battalions moved up into the Havrincourt sector. It was well for our battalions that the business of reconnoitering by patrols was carried out in no perfunctory manner. In particular, Capt. A.C. Lynne and 2/Lt. W.G. James of the 2/5th Battalion made a minute reconnaissance of the position ahead of them by night on the 19th, cut some wires, and left guiding tapes to lead their men at dawn.

At 6.20 a.m. in the morning of the 20th, the attack was launched. Three wire-crushing tanks and eight fighting tanks had been told off to cooperate with each battalion in the fighting line. The first objective of the 187th Infantry Brigade was a section of the front Hindenburg trench between Vesuvius and Oxford Road. (The dumps of the pits in the neighbourhood, owing to their conical shape in some cases, were given the names of well-known volcanoes.) The second objective was on a line running westerly from Havrincourt and included the north-western half of the village. The 36th (Ulster) Division fought on the left, the 51st (Highland) Division on the right of the 62nd Division.

Though the enemy had been restless in the early hours of the morning, and had kept up a lively bombardment intermittently, all this had died down, and the sudden tremendous tempest of our barrage, which opened at "Zero" hour, burst upon a quiet and unruffled morning. The attack was carried out according to plan, and the minutest detail had not been overlooked in the orders to the Division. It is true that some of the tanks detailed to precede the 2/4th KOYLI were late, but the leading companies went forward without them; the tanks soon, however, came up and took the lead. The 2/5th were entirely without tanks in assaulting the first objective, and it was here that Captain Lynch's work during the night was found to be of such paramount importance. Without tanks, the battalion carried all before it, rushing the enemy posts and still keeping the general line. Capt. Lynn and 2/Lt. James gallantly led the way and were conspicuous in the close fighting in the enemy trenches. First the enemy outpost line was overrun. One machine-gun post after another fell into the hands of the stormers; Boggart Hole, Snowden and Etna were rushed and taken, the last by a combined effort of flank platoons of the 4th and 5th battalions of KOYLI, who would not wait for an expected tank to do the crushing part of the work for them. "C" and "D" Companies of the 2nd/4th Battalion were in the second wave of the battalion; a heavy machine-gun fire was enfilading the leading companies from Chateau Wood on the right; the flank company of this second wave went for the wood, fought the garrison, and took seventy prisoners with two machine-guns.

When "A" and "B" Companies of the 2nd/4th Battalion reached the German front trench and occupied it, the other two companies passed through to attack the left half of the village of Havrincourt. The 2nd/5th acted in a like manner. Havrincourt was taken without serious check. A machine-gun had been mounted in the village square, the houses were manned and defended, but the suddenness of the offensive had taken the enemy at a disadvantage, and those important points were not too strongly held at the moment. By 8.30 a.m. the KOYLI battalions had captured their objectives in the Blue Line and at once set to work on the business of consolidation.

The 185th Infantry Brigade's left battalion had cooperated in the attack on Havrincourt. The 2/4th Battalion, of the two KOYLI battalions engaged had suffered most heavily. Capts. M. McNicholl and G.H. Roberts, Lt. A.R. Mosley, 2/Lts H.A.E. Barker and C.P. Maddox had been killed. Lt. R. Hale-White, 2/Lts. C. Hirst, A.G. Hill, H. Anderson, S.A.V. Butler, J.E. David and A. Kilner were wounded. Of other ranks there were 211 returned as killed, wounded or missing.

Of the 2/5th Battalion, Capt. and Adjt. A. Robinson, 2/Lt. E. Morris and 2/Lt. J.H.V. Jago (King's Own, attached) were wounded; 21 other ranks were killed and 101 were wounded.

When the 185th and 187th Brigades had made good their hold on the Havrincourt line of trenches, the 186th Brigade passed through with a rush, under the leadership of its gallant young commander Brigadier-General R.B. Brayford, V.C., and went on to the capture of Graincourt, well assisted by tanks; the impetus of the attack carried fighting lines even to the first houses of the village of Anneux, but there was not sufficient weight left in it to carry the village itself. During the day, 37 guns and 2,000 prisoners were taken by the 62nd Division.

The 2/5th KOYLI had taken 200 prisoners and 8 machine-guns, as well as 2 granatenwerfer and 4 minenwerfer. After the attack had surged on, both KOYLI battalions were left to occupy the Hindenburg support trench line, but on the 25th November were moved in order to relieve battalions of the 121st Infantry Brigade in the sector east of Moeuvres, near the sugar factory." 1

Battle of Cambrai

Above: The Battle of Cambrai and the position of the 2nd/4th KOYLI on the 20th November 1917.

Sergeant Leonard Bell, aged 22 years, son of Fred and Harriet Ann Bell, of Mortimer Row, Horbury, Wakefield, was killed in action on the 20th November 1917 and is remembered at grave reference II. D. 29 at the Hermies Hill British Cemetery,2 Pas de Calais, France. Hermies is a town in the Department of the Pas-de-Calais, approximately 3.5 kilometres south of the road (D930) from Bapaume to Cambrai.

Hermies was seized on the morning of the 9th April 1917, by a surprise attack of the 2nd and 3rd Australian Infantry Battalions. It was held against the advancing Germans on the 22nd March 1918, by the 17th Division, but evacuated on the following day; and it was retaken in September 1918. It was later "adopted", with Havrincourt, by the County Borough of Huddersfield.

The cemetery was begun in November 1917, and carried on by fighting units until March 1918, and further graves were added in the following September. These original burials comprise nearly the whole of Plot I; the remaining three Plots were added after the Armistice by the concentration of graves from a wide area round Hermies and from certain small cemeteries, including:-

Demicourt German Cemetery, Boursies, at the North end of the hamlet of Demicourt, which contained about 100 German graves and those of 15 unidentified men of the 7th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

Havrincourt Cottage Garden Cemetery, made by the 47th (London) Division in the Southern part of the village, which contained the graves of 30 soldiers from the United Kingdom and 5 Germans who fell in the winter of 1917-1918.

Havrincourt Wood British Cemetery, about 1 kilometre South-West of Havrincourt village. It contained the graves of 70 soldiers from the United Kingdom who fell on the 20th November, 1917, the first day of the Battle of Cambrai, and all but 5 of whom belonged to the Infantry of the 62nd (West Riding) Division.

Hermies Australian Cemetery, on the North-West side of the village, which contained the graves of 1 officer and 20 N.C.O.s and men of the 2nd Australian Infantry Battalion, who fell on the 9th April 1917.

There are now over 1,000, 1914-18 war casualties commemorated in this site. Of these, nearly 300 are unidentified and special memorials are erected to 28 soldiers from the United Kingdom and 3 from Australia, known or believed to be buried among them. Other special memorials record the names of 6 soldiers from the United Kingdom, buried in two German Cemeteries, whose graves were destroyed by shell fire.

References:

1. "History of the KOYLI, 1914-1918 - The King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in the Great War", by R.C. Bond, Naval and Military Press Ltd.

2. Commonwealth War Graves Commission web site