Richard CAVILL
Rank: Private
Number: 405215
Unit: 20th Battalion (Central Ontario Regiment) CANADIAN INFANTRY
Date of Death: 18 September 1916
Age: 28
Cemetery: Warloy-Baillon Communal Cemetery Extension, Somm, France

Twenty two year old Richard Cavill married Mary Elizabeth Wild in the autumn of 1887. The next year, their first child was born, on 30 September, and they called him Richard after his father. By the time of the 1901 Census, they had three more children - Ernest, born in 1891; Gertrude, born in 1894 and I month old Gladys. Richard, senior, was then 36 and working as a warehouseman. Mary, 31, is described as a "chipped potato dealer".

The family home was at 37 Caroline Street, Stockport. Richard attended the National School on Wellington Road (now part of Stockport College) and also attended evening classes at the Technical School. He was employed by Messrs Birkett & Bostock, a local firm of bakers. Richard regularly attended the Baptist Church on Greek Street.

In 1912, Richard emigrated to start a new life in Canada and he settled in Toronto, obtaining work with the Maclean Publishing Company. He attended the Danforth Avenue Baptist Church. On 17 August 1915, he enlisted into the army, being assigned to the 20th Battalion. The Battalion had been formed in May and went to the Western Front just a few weeks after Richard joined up. As he would have spent a number of months in training, it is unlikely that he went on active service before the spring of 1916, as part of a draft of replacements for casualties.

Richard's enlistment papers can be viewed on-line at the Canadian National Archives, which also holds his full service file. The papers record that he was just over 5 feet five inches in height, with a 36 inch chest. He was of a fresh complexion, with grey eyes and dark brown hair.

15 September 1916 was a fine early autumn day, with temperatures approaching 60 Fahrenheit. British and Canadian troops were to launch another attack, as part of the Battle of the Somme, which had started on 1 July. This time, tanks would take part in the attack for the first time.

The Battalion's War Diary records that it moved into the front line at 2am, near Courcellette. "Owing to the noise caused by Heavy Motor Machine Gun Section getting into position, enemy was very alert and put down a slow barrage on communication trenches and back country which caused many casualties." As will have just been read, the tank was such a new weapon that the word hadn't yet come into use. Twice during the night, German raiding parties attempted to attack the Canadian line with grenades, but these were beaten off. At 6.20am, the artillery barrage commenced and, four minutes later, Richard and his comrades "went over the top".

"By 6.35, the German front line was in our hands and mopping up was under way." In a series of short bursts, the Canadians pressed on with their attack until they reached their final objective - a sugar factory, which was captured at 7am. They had already advanced 1000 yards. A small patrol was sent out to investigate the forward area and discovered a sunken road about 500 yards further on which was only lightly held by German infantry. Orders were then given for the whole Battalion to advance on the road and it was captured, along with 50 prisoners, at 9.40.

The first engagement for the tanks had not been a success. Of the six that went into action, one failed to start. Three more had mechanical difficulties and had to be abandoned. The other two attacked towards the sugar factory but found they had been outpaced by the infantry so did not go into action.

The troops now in the sunken road cleared the area to their right and left using grenades and this allowed the adjacent battalions to move up. During the afternoon, there was some shelling of the captured positions and an attempt by the Germans to counter-attack was "stopped dead" by machine gun fire.

During the 16th, the enemy artillery shelling became heavier, particularly in the early afternoon. The War Diary then records "During the afternoon, enemy attempted two counter attacks on positions on our immediate left. Our machine gun got into action and mowed them down with enfilade fire".

At 5am, on the 17th, the Battalion was relieved from the front line. Casualties had been 52 killed and 260 wounded. Richard was wounded by shrapnel from a shell, but it is not known on which day he was injured. He will have received attention from the Battalion's medical officer before being evacuated down the casualty chain. The Cemetery where he is buried was used by the Field Ambulance at the time. This was not just a transport organisation in the way we would understand the word "ambulance " today. It was an integral part of the provision of front line medical services and was also staffed by doctors. They would ensure that a casualty was stabilised before further evacuation to better equipped surgical facilities. The fact that Richard died here on the 18th - at least 24 hours after the Battalion came out of the line indicates only one thing. The doctors at the Field Ambulance knew there was no chance of him surviving. He would have been made as comfortable as possible but there would have been no treatment.

   
           
   
     
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