Percy James Ernest AIREY
Rank: Private
Number: 33342
Unit: 2nd Battalion BORDER REGIMENT
Date of Death: 22 March 1917
Age: 33
Cemetery: Arras Memorial, Pas de Calais, France

Percy was born in Witton, Birmingham and he was living in the Perry Barr area of the city when he enlisted in 1916. His parents, Frederick Henry and Annie Eliza, lived at 45 Aston Lane, Perry Barr.

He was married to Helena Anna, who may have originated from the Stockport area. In the early 1920s, she was living at 158 Hyde Road, Woodley and she was probably responsible for ensuring Percy’s inclusion on the Bredbury War Memorial.

When Percy enlisted, he was assigned to 10th Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers (service number 7165) and left Britain, for France, on 29 December 1916 as part of a draft of re-enforcements. When he reached the Battalion, on 24 January 1917, he was assigned to “A” Company. Most unusually, within 4 days, he was transferred to 2nd Battalion, Border Regiment.

On 14 March, the German Army started to carry out a planned and phased withdrawal from the Somme, to a new trench system known as the Hindenberg Line. As soon as the British troops realised what was happening, they advanced in pursuit. On 20 March, Percy was at Puiseux, a village 15 kilometres north of the Somme town of Albert. The next day, the Battalion marched to Courcelles and, by 3pm, had relieved the 8th Devons in the front line in front of St Leger. Aerial reconnaissance indicated that the nearby village of Croiselles had been evacuated by the enemy and two officer patrols were sent out during the night of 21/22nd to check this. The patrol under 2nd Lt J J Dedman advanced on the village, from the south east, and got within 500 yards and then came under machine gun fire. The other patrol, under 2nd Lt W G Graham, managed to enter the village from the south west and confirmed it was strongly held.

The Battalion’s War Diary notes that on the morning of the 22nd, “B” Company’s Lewis gun was destroyed by shell fire. This is almost certainly when Percy was killed. Only he and Private James Morris died that day and this entirely consistent with them being the two-man team who would operate the gun. Neither of them has a known grave which suggests that they took a direct hit from the shell and there was little left to bury.

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