Oswald NEAL (E)
Rank: Private
Number: 48852
Date of Death: 28 May 1918
Age: 29
Cemetery: Soissons Memorial, Aisne, France

In the late 1890s, John Neale, a cotton weaver, married Mary Gee at St Thomas' Church, Mellor. Oswald would be their only son and was born in the village in about 1899. Two years later, when a national census was taken, the family had moved to Church Street, Marple and would live there at least until the early 1920s.  The family history website, CheshireBMD, records the local birth of Florence and Ethel Neale in 1901 and 1905 and these girls may well have been his sisters. Very little more is known about Oswald's life. He furthered his education by attending the Sunday School run by Marple Unitarian Church where the family probably worshipped. He worked at nearby Goyt Mill until he enlisted into the army in April 1917.

In March and April of 1918, the German Army had launched overwhelmingly successful attacks against the British lines, driving the Tommies back many miles. The Borderers and the other battalions of 25th Division had suffered many casualties and were sent south to regroup and complete the training of fresh troops just arriving from the UK. They could not have predicated that, far from a rest, they were being sent to the exact location of the third phase of the German offensive.

On the 26th, Oswald and his mates were in billets in the reserve area but, with a German artillery barrage starting to indicate that "something" was happening, they were ordered forward. The march took over 5 hours and they arrived at Vaux-Varennes at 3am on the 27th. After a short rest, "A" and "D" Companies moved forward to take up defensive positions near Trigney and Hermonville. This was some way behind the front line and they did not come under attack from the advancing Germans until the early evening.

Even though the Germans had been fighting hard all day, they had many fresh troops in reserve and were able to launch a strong attack on the Borderers, forcing the two companies into retreat. The night was quiet but, around 7am on the 28th, scouts reported that the Germans had started to work their way round the left flank of the British position. A further withdrawal became imperative. The troops firing the Battalion's light Lewis machine guns covered the retirement, holding off the Germans and causing them many casualties.

Oswald is recorded in army records published after the War as having "died of wounds" and was, therefore not killed outright. However, he has no known grave, indicating that he died before there was any opportunity for him to be evacuated to an army field hospital some miles to the rear. It seems likely, therefore, that he was wounded on the 28th. Perhaps he died at a nearby dressing station just behind the front line or, possibly, had to be left as his comrades quickly retreated.

Further information about Oswald, including a photograph, can be found in the book "Remembered" by P Clarke, A Cook and J Bintliff.

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