yeovil at War

Charles Mark Deacon

Killed in action on the first day of the First battle of the Scarpe

 

Charles Mark Deacon, known as Charlie, was born on 14 September 1898 in Leckhampton, Gloucestershire. He was one of the eight children of gardener George Deacon (bc1860, Queen Camel) and Sophia née Mead (1859, South Cadbury-1921). The children were Agnes (b1880), Emily (b1882), Florence (b1884), Albert (b1888), Frederick George (b1890), William (b1897), Charlie and Edward (b1904).

In the 1901 census the family were living in a cottage at Leckhampton, Gloucestershire and by the time of the following 1911 census they had moved to Glanville Wootton, Sherborne, Dorset and 12-year old Charlie was listed as a scholar.

Like his father, Charlie worked as a gardener and at the time of his enlistment was working as an under-gardener at Swallowcliffe House, Kingston. At this time the family were living at Grove Cottage, Preston Road, Preston Plucknett.

Charlie enlisted at Yeovil, probably during the summer of 1917, joining 2nd Battalion, Princess Charlotte of Wales' (Royal Berkshire Regiment). His Service Number was 38520. The battalion had been fighting on the Western Front since November 1914.

Charlie joined his battalion in France during October 1917. At this time the battalion was engaged in day-to-day fighting rather than set battles. In its edition of 7 December 1917 the Western Gazette reported "Mr and Mrs Deacon of Preston Road, have received a letter from their son, Private Charles Mark Deacon of the -- Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regiment, saying that he has been wounded in the leg by a piece of shrapnel during the recent advance in France. Before joining the Colours, Private Deacon was employed by Mr Whitmarsh Mayo of Swallowcliffe, and has been in the Army about 11 months. Mr and Mrs Deacon have two other sons serving in France."

The first major action Charlie would have been involved in with his battalion was the Battle of St Quentin (21-23 March 1918). The Battle of St Quentin began the German's Spring Offensive on 21 March 1918. It was launched from the Hindenburg Line, in the vicinity of Saint-Quentin, France. Its goal was to break through the Allie lines and advance in a north-westerly direction to seize the Channel ports, which supplied the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and to drive the BEF into the sea. Two days later General Ludendorff, the Chief of the German General Staff, changed his plan and pushed for an offensive due west, along the whole of the British front north of the River Somme. This was designed to separate the French and British Armies and crush the British forces by pushing them into the sea. The offensive ended at Villers-Bretonneux, to the east of the Allied communications centre at Amiens, where the Allies managed to halt the German advance; the German Armies had suffered many casualties and were unable to maintain supplies to the advancing troops. Much of the ground fought over was the wilderness left by the Battle of the Somme in 1916. The action was therefore officially named by the British Battles Nomenclature Committee as The First Battles of the Somme, 1918.

On 21 March 1918 the German Army launched a large-scale offensive against the Allied front on the Somme battlefield. The offensive is known as the Kaiserschlacht or the Kaiser's Battle. The offensive on the Somme battle sector was codenamed Operation Michael. It was the first of several German large-scale attacks made against the Allied line on the northern part of the Western Front in the spring of 1918.

The battalion was involved in a series of actions, all being part of the German offensive; the Actions at the Somme Crossings (24-25 March 1918), immediately followed by the Battle of Rosières (26-27 March 1918). The battalion then played a part in the extraordinary counter-attack at Villers-Bretonneux on 24-25 April. During this action they faced for the first time the few German tanks that were ever produced. (The Germans also used captured British tanks, mostly from from Cambrai).

The battalion was next involved in the Third Battle of the Aisne. On the morning of 27 May 1918, the Germans began a bombardment of the Allied front lines with over 4,000 artillery pieces. The British suffered heavy losses since huddled together, they made easy artillery targets. The bombardment was followed by a poison gas drop. Once the gas had lifted, the main infantry assault by 17 German Sturmtruppen divisions commenced, part of an Army Group nominally commanded by Crown Prince Wilhelm, the eldest son of Kaiser Wilhelm II. Taken completely by surprise and with their defences spread thin, the Allies were unable to stop the attack and the German army advanced through a 40 kilometres (25 mile) gap in the Allied lines. Reaching the Aisne in under six hours, the Germans smashed through eight Allied divisions on a line between Reims and Soissons, pushing the Allies back to the river Vesle and gaining an extra 15 km of territory by nightfall. Victory seemed near for the Germans, who had captured just over 50,000 Allied soldiers and over 800 guns by 30 May 1918. But advancing within 56 kilometres (35 miles) of Paris on 3 June, the German armies were beset by numerous problems, including supply shortages, fatigue, lack of reserves and many casualties.

The Battle of the Scarpe was a battle that took place during the Hundred Days Offensive between 26 and 30 August 1918. Heavy rains during the night of 27 August resulted in slippery ground, difficulties in assembling troops and late starts for the assaults. Stiff resistance from the Germans and their heavily defended positions limited gains to around 3 kilometers. During the afternoon of 29 August 1918 Charles Deacon was killed by a German shell during a barrage. He was just 19 years old.

The Western Gazette, in its edition of 29 August 1918 reported "Much regret has been expressed with Mr and Mrs George Deacon, of Grove Cottage, Preston Road, in the death of their son Private Charles Mark Deacon, of the Royal Berkshire Regiment who was killed in action on the afternoon of the 29th August by a shell. The late Priv. Deacon, who would have been 20 years of age tomorrow (Saturday), was sent to France in October 1917, and before joining up was employed as an under-gardener by Mr Whitmarsh Mayo at Swallowcliffe. In the course of a letter expressing sympathy with Mr and Mrs Deacon and family, the officer commanding the platoon of which Private Deacon was a member, says:- “Your son had always shown himself to be a good soldier, and I assure you I feel his death very much. It is a distressing loss to the platoon, of which he was always one of the brightest members. Please get a little consolation from the fact that he died doing his duty while attacking the enemy, and that he suffered no pain, the death being instantaneous.” Lance Corporal Beavis, deceased’s chum, writing to Mrs Deacon says:- “The boys in the platoon wish me to convey their deepest regret and sympathy to you and your family in your great loss. I have known Charlie for some time since I joined this Battalion in February. He was well liked by all, and will be missed by all of us as a good chum and friend. He was buried by the boys of the platoon, and a cross was put over his grave.”

Charles Mark Deacon is remembered on Panel 7 of the Vis-En-Artois Memorial. His name is also recorded on the War Memorial in the Borough and the Preston Plucknett War Memorial.

 

gallery

 

British troops during the Battle of Rosières (Operation Michael). Concentration of the 17th Division at Henencourt as the V Corps reserve.

 

A British Mk IV heavy tank, photographed in 1917.

 

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission certificate in memory of Charles Deacon.

 

 The Vis-en-Artois British Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France.

Vis-en-Artois and Haucourt are villages on the straight main road from Arras to Cambrai about 10 kilometres south-east of Arras. The Memorial is the back drop to the Vis-en-Artois British Cemetery, which is west of Haucourt on the north side of the main road.

The Memorial consists of a screen wall in three parts. The middle part of the screen wall is concave and carries stone panels on which names are carved. It is 26 feet high flanked by pylons 70 feet high. The Stone of Remembrance stands exactly between the pylons and behind it, in the middle of the screen, is a group in relief representing St George and the Dragon. The flanking parts of the screen wall are also curved and carry stone panels carved with names. Each of them forms the back of a roofed colonnade; and at the far end of each is a small building. The Memorial was designed by JR Truelove, with sculpture by Ernest Gillick. It was unveiled by the Rt Hon Thomas Shaw on 4 August 1930.