Oliver Curtis NEW
Rank: Lance Corporal
Number: 63114
Unit: 50th Battalion MACHINE GUN CORPS
Date of Death: 12 April 1918
Age: 24
Cemetery: Ploegsteert Memorial, Comines-Warneton, Belgium

Leonard New and Mary Johnson had married in a civil ceremony in the Stockport area in 1883. Over the years, he became a successful solicitor and, in 1901, the family was living at "Longacre". St Lesmo Road. The couple now had three children - Oswald (then 16), Dorothy (14) and Oliver (7). Leonard's income was sufficient for the family to employ two live-in servants - Ada Bradshaw as cook and Margaret Burgess as housemaid. Leonard died in 1911.

Both sons would serve in the forces during the War and neither would come home. Oswald died on 4 June 1915, at Gallipoli, whilst with an armoured car unit of the Royal Naval Air Service. Meanwhile, Oliver had intended to follow his father's profession and had been articled to a local solicitor, Mr W H Hadfield, but, on 25 July 1916, he enlisted into the army and was assigned to the London Rifle Brigade. This was a Territorial Battalion of the London Regiment and Oliver was given the service number of 5111. His medal entitlement records at the National Archives do not mention this service, confirming that he never served abroad with the Regiment. He was, in fact, transferred to the machine gunners after he had finished training, in October 1916. Around this time he was also promoted to lance Corporal and went overseas in November.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website records that Oliver was serving with the Corps' 50th Company when he was killed. This appears to be an error as numbered companies ceased to exist in February 1918 when they were amalgamated into new larger Battalion formations. It is possible that Oliver was serving with the 17th Battalion into the 50th Company had merged. However, it seems more likely that the error lies simply with the fact that it should read "50th Battalion".

On 9 April, the 50th Battalion was at Robecq. During the night, there was a heavy enemy bombardment of the British front line, announcing that the Germans were about to launch the second phase of their spring offensive. At 8am, the Battalion was "stood to" and moved forward to deploy near the villages of Le Gorgue and Estaires, some way behind the front line.

The fighting reached them at about 2am on the 10th, when the German infantry came on in strength. There was no alternative but to withdraw and all the available gun teams had pulled back by 9am

The 11th saw further retreats to Epinette and Lestrom and, during the day, the Battalion helped the infantry withdrawal by supporting a rear-guard action. There were considerable casualties and these continued into the next day. By late afternoon, the Battalion only 2 of its original 64 gun teams still operational and these took up positions to cover the further withdrawal of 149th Brigade. The Battalion was itself withdrawn from the fighting during the evening.

In the chaos, it will not have been possible for Oliver's mates to have buried him. As the fighting died down in the following days, he will have buried with dignity by the Germans but it is not surprising that they had little interest in establishing or recording individual identifications. In consequence, Oliver and many of his comrades have no known graves.

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