yeovil at War

Ernest William Nutland

Killed in action in day-to-day trench fighting

 

Ernest William Nutland was born in Yeovil in the summer of 1888. He was one of the nine children of general labourer Thomas William Nutford (b1852, East Coker) and laundress Elizabeth Anna 'Bessie' née Tavener (b1853, Yeovil).

In the 1891 census Thomas, Bessie and four of their children including Ernest and a domestic servant were living at 5 Park Row, at the western end of Park Street close to the junction of Pen Hill.

The children were hardly under the control of their parents. In May 1900 Thomas was fined five shillings for not ensuring two of his (un-named) children attended school regularly, with one attending only 23 times out of 39 and the other 24 out of 39.

The children apparently were allowed to run wild and were frequently in trouble with the courts; for example in July 1900 Ernest's brother Percy was before the courts (again) and found guilty of stealing 52 apples valued at 3d. Percy was described by the Magistrates as a "very bad boy, and they did not know what he might come to in future. They thought the parents did not look out to the boy as they ought to." Percy was ordered to have "three strokes with the birch rod, and sent to the Union until an industrial school could be found for him." Later that month Percy was sent to the Bath Industrial School "until he attains the age of 16".

It is known that Ernest attended the National Day School in Huish but, like his brother, Ernest also found himself in trouble. Although his offence is unknown, he too was sent to an industrial school for his misdemeanours. In Ernest's case he was sent to the Industrial School Ship Formidable (see Gallery). The Formidable was leased from the Admiralty in 1869 for use as a training ship in a scheme originally financed by several Bristol businessman. The vessel was moored at Portishead in the Bristol Channel, anchored about 400 yards off the pier. The ship could accommodate up to 350 boys aged between 11 and 14. In 1869 the Formidable was certified as an Industrial School Ship, allowing it to take children, like Ernest, that had been committed by the courts. Formidable was withdrawn from service by the Admiralty early in 1906 after suffering damage in strong gales and the vessel was replaced by a new shore establishment at Portishead known as the Incorporated National Nautical School. The 1901 census lists Ernest as a 13-year old 'inmate' aboard the Formidable, "Being trained for sea".

At a very early stage of the Great War Ernest enlisted at Yeovil, joining the 6th Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry His Service Number 13200 suggesting he enlisted at the end of 1914 or the beginning of 1915.

The 6th Battalion had been formed at Taunton in August 1914, becoming part of the 43rd Brigade, 14th Division at Aldershot later that year. On 21 May 1915 the 6th Battalion, including Ernest, landed at Boulogne, France.

The Battalion spent the first week or so marching across France towards Belgium where they spent about a week supplying working parties for the digging of trenches for a secondary positions southwest of Ypres.

By Sunday 13 June the Battalion settled down to trench life and the Regimental History of the Somerset Light Infantry recalled for that day "The trench life was very quiet. A little shelling early in the morning and desultory rifle fire during the day.... The trenches taken over were situated in a dangerous position. They had been captured from the enemy only a few days previously I had occupied the most easterly point of the British position in Belgium, in front of Hooge.

The line generally was in a very bad state and under incessant shellfire from the North, East and South. From 30 June to 18 July the 6th Somersets remained in billets, supplying large working parties day and night."

On 26 July 1915, while at Hooge, the Battalion was subjected to a new weapon of war - the flamethrower. This event is described in the Regimental History of the Somerset Light Infantry "Very early in the morning the front-line trenches of the Brigade were suddenly flooded by liquid fire, which belched from jets in the German lines opposite. This new device momentarily caused surprise and confusion, and the victims of this dastardly attack fell back from the front-line trenches which were then occupied by the enemy."

During 1916 the 6th Battalion fought in the trenches of the Western Front and in this year were involved in the action at Delville Wood in the Battles of the Somme. Delville Wood is to the north east of the town of Longueval in the département of the Somme in northern France.

After the two weeks of carnage from the commencement of the Somme Offensive, it became clear that a breakthrough of either the Allied or German line was most unlikely and the offensive had evolved to the capture of small prominent towns, woods or features which offered either side tactical advantages from which to direct artillery fire or to launch further attacks.

Delville Wood was one such feature, making it important to German and Allied forces. As part of a large offensive starting on 14 July, General Douglas Haig, Commander of the British Expeditionary Force, intended to secure the British right flank, while the centre advanced to capture the higher lying areas of High Wood in the centre of his line. Delville Wood was a battle to secure this right flank. The battle achieved this objective and is considered a tactical Allied victory. However, it was one of the bloodiest confrontations of the Somme, with both sides incurring large casualties.

According to the Regimental History of the Somerset Light Infantry, after the first phase of the Battle of Delville Wood, the 6th Somersets had spent several days in billets in Fricourt. During August the battalion was involved in the taking of Hop Alley and Beer Trench adjoining Delville Wood. After much heavy fighting the whole of Hop Alley passed into the hands of the Somerset men. Following the fighting, according to the Regimental History, "They dug a new CT (communication trench) under heavy fire and did it quickly and well. Also carried wire, stakes, etc, to the front line. Sent back 82 prisoners under escort. Carried bombs and sandbags. Put up artillery boards. Sent 20 men to fill gap on our left. Sent 20 men to make and hold a strong point in gap between right companies. Sent 30 men to support C company in Hop Alley. And then, when night had fallen, the remainder of this gallant company carried bombs, SAA, water, etc. to the front line."

The Regimental History continues "A little later (at 5pm) officers of the 9th Rifle Brigade came to look round the trenches of the 6th Somersets and made arrangements for taking them over. Hostile shelling, however, prevented the relief taking place until almost midnight, but this was all to the advantage of the Somerset men, who had no casualties in coming out of the line. The relief was completed at 4:15am, the battalion being billeted in Fricourt. "The men," stated the Battalion Diary, "on arrival in rest billets, were absolutely beat; the authorities had wisely kept them until the last possible moment and then taken them out." Thus ended another phase of the Battle of Delville Wood, a phase which cost the regiment five officers killed and seven wounded, with 48 other ranks killed and 220 wounded and missing. On 22 August the Brigade was paraded and the Brigadier complimented the 6th Somersets especially on the fine behaviour of the Battalion in Delville Wood."

On 26th August the 6th Battalion moved forward again to reserve trenches 300 yards in front of Bernafay Wood. Relief, however, came on 30 August, the 6th Somersets returning first to temporarily billets in Fricourt and then to a rest camp. On 31 August the Battalion entrained at Mericourt for Selincourt, 20 miles west of Amiens where, until 12 September, all ranks enjoyed a complete rest.

Unfortunately almost as soon as the Battalion returned to the trenches Ernest was killed in action on 16 September 1916. He was aged 28.

Ernest Nutland was interred at Combles Communal Cemetery Extension, Somme, France, Grave I.F.37, but his name is not recorded on the War Memorial in the Borough.

 

gallery

 

The Industrial Training Ship Formidable moored at Portishead, where Ernest was sent by the courts for his misdemeanours.

 

Young 'inmates' of the Industrial Training Ship Formidable pose in various uniforms designed for specific duties.

 

More 'inmates' of the Formidable pose for the camera to show the array of 'fun' activities they enjoy. 

 

The four Nutland boys of Park Street - from left to right - Albert, Ernest, Percy and Reginald. All four served in the Great War, Reginald joining the Royal Horse Artillery while his three brothers all served in the Somerset Light Infantry.

 

German flamethrower, first used against the 6th Somersets at Hooge on 26 July 1915.

 

The remains of the village of Hooge - totally destroyed. Photographed in 1919.

 

Delville Wood after the battle. The wood itself is completely obliterated and the trench running up the centre of the photograph is almost unrecogniseable as such after being destroyed by shellfire during the battle.

 

Delville Wood, photographed shortly after the war.

 

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission certificate in memory of Ernest Nutland.

 

Ernest Nutland's CWGC headstone..

 

Combles Communal Cemetery Extension, Somme, France.

The cemetery was begun in October 1916 by French troops, but the 94 French graves made in 1916 were moved to another cemetery. The first British burials took place in December 1916. From March 1917 to the end of May 1918 the Extension was not used. In June, July and August 194 German soldiers were buried in what was afterwards called Plot I, but these graves were also removed and in August and September further burials were made by the 18th Division. Plots II, V, VI and VII and most of Plot IV were added after the Armistice by the concentration of 944 graves from the battlefields in the neighbourhood and from several smaller cemeteries. There are now over 1,500 1914-18 war casualties commemorated in this site. Of these, over half are unidentified.

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