Reginald GROVES
Rank: Private
Number: 6525
Unit: 4th Battalion (or Company), Machine Gun Corps Australian Imperial Force
Date of Death: 8 August 1918
Age: 21
Cemetery: Heath Cemetery, Harbonnieres, Somme, France

Reginald was born in the Whalley Range district of Manchester, the son of Alfred and Eva Mary Groves. In 1901, the family was living in Sale, Cheshire (Alfred is not recorded on the Census and may have died by then). The children were Vaughan (7), Doris (6), Reginald (4) and Eric (18 months).

In 1914, Reginald emigrated to Australia and found work as a farm labourer. Vaughan had already emigrated to Canada and enlisted into the Canadian forces in 1914 (he is understood to have survived the war). In 1916 (no doubt when he became 18), he enlisted into the army. This was on 11 July 1916. At the time he was living at Edgley Moore Street, Leichhardt, New South Wales.

The service files of Australian troops still survive and are available on-line. They allow the reader to form an impression of the soldier. In this case, it can be seen that Sydney was 5' 6" tall and weighed 131 pounds. He had a 30" chest which could be expanded to 33.5". He had brown hair, grey eyes and a fresh complexion. At the time of his enlistment, he gave his religion as Church of England.

He was assigned to the 13th Battalion and, after initial training, he and the other new troops of the 21st Reinforcement group, left Sydney on the HMAT "A40 Ceramic" on 7 October. They reached Plymouth on 21 November.

A month later, Sydney embarked for France from Folkestone on board the "Princess Clementine." On 5 February, he received two gunshot wounds - one to his back and the other to a calf. This was in a successful attack on a German position known as Stormy Trench. After receiving treatment in France, Sydney was evacuated from Boulogne to England on 9 February and was admitted to Lakenham Military Hospital in Norwich. He had been lucky. The wounds were quite shallow and were already starting to heal naturally. On 10 March, he was discharged from hospital but remained in England based at the Battalion depot in Weymouth. He rejoined his unit in France on 3 August.

The next month, Sydney was in trouble for being absent without leave between 9.30 am and 9.30 pm. As a punishment, he was confined to barracks for seven days and was fined a day's pay. In early January, 1918, he developed an ulcer in a toe on his right foot and was admitted to hospital for six days.

On 6 May, he was transferred to the Machine Gun Corps. The next month, he was again wounded, although this time it was very minor and he was able to remain on duty.

German General von Ludendorff would describe the 8 August 1918 as "the black day for the German army". The Allied plan (for what would later be officially designated as the Battle of Amiens) was for a massive attack on the German lines, north of Amiens. British, French, Australian and Canadian troops would all be involved.

At 4.20am, the Allied artillery laid down its fire on the German trenches and the troops advanced. Sydney and his mates were on the left of the Australian sector. The plan was that the infantry had to cross steep gullies and capture the villages of Cerisy and Morcourt. The machine gunners would support the attack. The Australian Official History records "Very sharp fire from there (Cerisy) met the centre battalion as it moved out and began to descend the near slope......A number of men were hit and the battalion flung itself down while some machine guns of the 4th and 24th Companies opened across the valley." The infantry was able to press on but later came under heavy machine gun fire with many fatalities. They took cover in shell-holes but also came under artillery fire. The Official History continues "four machine guns of the 4th Company, under Sergeant Tyler, brought up on limbers at a gallop tried to suppress the machine guns that stopped the advance." At around 10.25, some of the Company were being moved forward in passenger carrying tanks (a practical way of moving the heavy machine guns). The four tanks moved to attack sniping and machine gun positions near Morgan Wood. The Official History records that the tank commanded by Lt. Lydster (4th Company) was hit and several of the soldiers burnt.

At 1.30pm, other tanks supporting the 16th infantry battalion brought 4th Company machine gunners forward to the captured line. One crew, under Sergeant Disney, marched beside their tank, as it was presumably hot inside and captured six or seven enemy posts under cover of the tank fire. Elsewhere 4th Company machine gunners were being successful in forcing the German artillerymen around Cerisy to take cover.  It had been a most successful day with approximately 74,000 Germans killed, wounded or prisoner. The Australian troops had lost nearly 6000 troops of whom 850, including Sydney, had been killed.

An undated note on his file records "Private Groves was killed near Mericourt-sur-Somme in the attack on 8 August last. He was killed instantly by a piece of shell and was buried where he fell, 500 yards south east of Mericourt. A small cross was erected but possibly this has since been destroyed by shell file." Sydney had written a will leaving all he had to his mother.

In the years following the war, many small burial areas were closed as the land was returned to civilian use. The bodies were exhumed and re-buried in military cemeteries. The difficulties encountered by the official bodies in ensuring proper recognition for the dead can be seen from the following letter, sent by the Australian Grave Services to the Records Officer at the Department of Defence in Melbourne, about Sydney, in September 1921. "Very exhaustive investigations have been made regarding the burial place of the above named soldier but unfortunately it has not been possible to ascertain definitely where they are buried as no conclusive means of identification have been obtained. The investigations have established almost beyond doubt that (he is) buried in Grave 7, Row D, Plot 2, Heath Military Cemetery and (the grave has) been provisionally accepted by the Imperial War Graves Commission. Particulars on the cross marking the grave will be preceded by the words "Believed to be".....

The letter continues (referring to Sydney and another soldier "It should be pointed out that the soldiers buried in these graves were exhumed from the spot where these two were originally reported buried. No other soldiers were exhumed from that spot and everything points strongly to the fact that the remains interred are those of (these soldiers)."

When the War Graves Commission finished collating its casualty information, in the 1920s, Sydney's mother was living at25 Moorland Road, Stockport.

   
           
   
     
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