First World War Project
Henry Mercer CHAPMAN (of Newnham)
Private, Service Number 15077
Son of a successful farmer, Henry's father (William Mercer) was one of the "early-adopters" of technology who grasped the challenge and opportunity of agricultural mechanisation. In William's early married life, at the age of 35 (1881) he is recorded as the proprietor of a "Thrashing Machine" working from "Mock Beggars", Norton. Ten years later, he is the proprietor of a "Traction Engine" in Newnham Street and finally, the owner of Homestall Farm, Doddington. He and his wife, Anne, raised a large family of 7 children in Lenham, Norton and Newnham.
Henry was the youngest of siblings Laura, Mary Ann, Clara Jane, William, Emily Jane and Matilda A. He married Olive Mary Page in 1909 and they went on to have three sons - Henry (b.1910, Marylebone), William Robert (b.1911, Faversham), Charles Edward (b.1916) and two daughters, Ivy M (b.1913) and Gladys May (b. 1914). In 1911, Henry is living in the "Old Post Office", Newnham - "Grubbing gravel and Stone" for a living. They lived next-door to his father and mother - now showing as "Dairy Farmer" but living in Newnham who is next to a Grocer. This suggests a central location in the village.
According to a newspaper report on his death, Henry attested in 1916 under the "Derby Scheme". This "Scheme" was introduced in 1915 to boost recruitment (without conscription) as attestation numbers were too low to sustain the war effort. The idea failed as it allowed an opt-out version of "deferment". Henry attested under the scheme but it is not know if he chose deferment. As a married man born in 1897 he fell into Group 24 - this group was "proclaimed" on 13 May 1916 (or 13 June 1916 if "deferred") and landed in France in October 1916. It is quite likely that he joined the Royal Munster Fusiliers as part of a draft to meet the most urgent need at the time.
Following Henry's death, Olive married Robert A Dunkin in Faversham in May 1917. With five children to care for, a second marriage would have been a welcome alternative to the poor-house.
|Faversham and North East Kent News of 12 May 1917|
|PRIVATE HENRY CHAPMAN, MUNSTER FUSILIERS. The parish of Newnham has also lost another of its men at the front – Private Henry Mercer Chapman, of the Royal Munster Fusiliers, who was killed in action on the 7th March. He was on duty at the time at a gap head when the Germans started a sharp bombardment with trench mortars. A letter received from his officer stated that he was killed instantaneously. Private Chapman volunteered under the Derby scheme and joined up at the beginning of April last year. He went to France in October, was wounded on the 10th December, and had only returned to duty four days before he was killed. He was 24 years of age and leaves a wife and five little children to mourn the loss of a brave husband and father.|
The few official records to survive show that Henry was first assigned Regimental Number (3988) in the East Kent (The Buffs) Regiment – our local Kent Regiment. Most likely into the 3rd Battalion (Reserve).
The minimum £3 War Gratuity [See Appendix 2] awarded to his family after the war confirms the newspaper report that Henry attested in April 1916; soon seeing active service overseas through the Royal Munster Fusiliers. This is a relatively common pattern - training in one formation, then transferring into a Regiment that needs drafts to meet muster in the field.
Action - 1916
From the newspaper report on his death, undertook seven months of training until October 1916 when he went overseas with the 2nd/Munsters.
On 1st November, the battalion moved from BAIZIEUX to S.W. corner of MAMETZ WOOD where it was employed under Royal Engineers cleaning and draining roads in CATTERPILLAR VALLEY and about FLATIRON COPSE. This continued until 21st when they went into the Reserve at BAZENTIN-le-GRAND followed by a period in the centre front line after 27th until 1st December when they were relieved back to HIGH WOOD CAMP (WEST) when 102 replacement Other Ranks joined the Battalion. This pattern repeated through December until 29th/30th when a "Raiding force" made up of 2 officer and 25 Other Ranks went in search of prisoners but they found the German front line completely abandoned and in disrepair. So, they returned empty-handed but were recognised in despatches with the loss of an officer (2nd Lt. DILWORTH) from machine-gun fire. It was during December that Henry was first injured so he may have been involved in this latter Raid.
Action - 1917
The New Year opened with the Battalion relieved back into BECOURT CAMP and then CONTAY 'rest' billets for a month of inspection, parade drill, route marching, training in Brigade Scheme "open warfare" and attack formations. During this same period there were sports contests that included boxing and cross-country running (2/RMF winning the silver cup). On 2nd February, the Battalion moved from CONTAY to hutments to continue training on methods of attacking a "strong point" using a barrage of rifle grenades.
On 5th February, the Battalion marched to TELEGRAPH CAMP (Ref Map. 62.c.M.3.b.55) and into Brigade Reserve where they quartered in dug-outs and intense cold. Here company training continued until 10th February when "the battalion moved to front line trenches in the Brigade left-subsector, opposite BARLEUX – relieving the 2nd Welch Regiment. The trenches were in a very good condition but as the hard frost still continued, work on improvements was rendered very difficult.
11th & 12th February: FRONT LINE TRENCHES: Work was hampered by the shortage of tools and the condition of the ground, but as tools became available, much useful work was done in improving fire-steps and in the line Patrols were sent out by each front line company each night – chiefly to examine the enemy's wire – which was reported to be in a pretty strong condition. No hostile patrols were encountered.
Work progressed and many improvements were made. At 7.30pm a scheme, arranged by the Commanding Officer, came into operation
13th February: The scheme known as a "Silent Half-hour" [characterised by] "Absolute Silence" observed in the sector occupied by the battalion from 7.30pm to 8pm for which period patrols were sent out by each front line company. These patrols were in position at 7.20pm and the absolute silence in the sector enabled them to hear sounds in the enemy's line much better than they could have done in the ordinary way. 2nd Lt. ARDAGH was particularly successful, owing to his knowledge of German. He overheard the conversation of two of the enemy whom from their speech, he judged to by BAVARIANS. 2nd Lt. ARDAGH's report appeared – practically verbatim in the III Corps Intelligence Summary.
14th February: Work on the line was continued, and the line was now in quite a good condition. The battalion was relieved by the 2nd Welch Regiment about 9pm, and moved back to the support area in FLAUCOURT.
15th February: SUPPORT AREA: The battalion was very much divided – B company being in dugouts rear Brigade HQ at MEUDON QUARRY. The other companies were in dugouts and cellars around the village of FLAUCOURT. Companies held rifle and feet inspections but as movement around the area, in daylight, was very restricted, no other work was possible.
16th February: Companies held rifle and feet inspections. Foot washing – under the new system, took place in ASSE VILLERS. At night all available men were on fatigue and working parties.
17th February: Companies held rifle and feet inspections and at night all available men were on working parties. Captain C.J.D. LANKTREE assumed the duties of Acting Adjutant via Lt. J. VERNON-HARCOURT.
18th February: MOVING TO FRONT LINE: Companies held rifle and feet inspection. The battalion relieved the 2nd Welch Regiment in the left sub-sector about 9pm. The trenches were not in as good a condition a last time owing to the thaw having set in. Work was started at once. Patrols were sent out by each front line Company. They encountered no hostile patrols and reported the enemy's were to be in good condition.
19th February: Our artillery was very active throughout the day and the enemy replied with light guns and trench mortars, doing some damage to out front line. During the night 18/19 our Lewis Guns fired 1457 rounds. An enemy working party was dispersed. Patrols sent out during the night 18/19 reported the enemy's wire to be damaged in places.
20th February: During the night 19/20, patrols were sent out by each front line Company. None of them were fired on and all patrols reported the ground in front of our line to be much cut up by shell fire. Our snipers claimed two hits in PERA TRENCH (Map 62c S.W. N.12.c.8.7). They also succeeded in breaking an enemy periscope. Enemy snipers very inactive. The conditions of our trenches is getting worse. Rain has fallen and this combined with the thaw has caused the trenches to fall in, in several places, necessitating a lot of extra work, which however was cheerfully undertaken.
21st February: During the night 20/21, patrols were sent out as usual from all front line Companies. They reported the enemy's wire to be cut up in places. 2nd Lt. KIDD took out a patrol of 4 men along the sunken road from N.11.d.10.2 (Ref Map 62c S.W.) and reported that the road could be used as an advanced assembly trench, from the road could be used as an advanced assembly trench, from the peculiar nature of its formation, one side being 8 feet lower than the other. The men worked hard during the night and day keeping the trenches clear. The mud was almost knee deep, and conditions were becoming worse. The battalion was relieved by the 2nd Welch Regiment about 10pm and moved back to Reserve area, two companies being at TELEGRAPH CAMP, one at DOMPIERRE, and one at the SUCERIE (Ref map 62c S.W., M.10.d.5.6).
22nd February: RESERVE AREA: The conditions at TELEGRAPH CAMP were very bad, as the dugouts were flooded and the whole area was a sea of mud. The companies in DOMPIERRE and the SUCERIE, were much better off. Rifle and feet inspections were held, and the remainder of the day was devolved to cleaning up and rest – both of which were very necessary.
23rd February: LINE OF MARCH: The battalion was relieved by the 2nd Royal Sussex Regiment and moved back to Divisional reserve at CHUIGNOLLES (See appendix VIII). The march to CHUIGNOLLES was very well carried out, the men showing great spirit, as they were very tired. The battalion was billeted in huts save for one platoon of three companies, which were in very good billets.
24th February: CHUIGNOLLES: Battalions at CHUIGNES were allotted to the battalion from 9am – 12 noon and clean underclothes and socks were available for the men. Companies were at the disposal of Company Commanders, and the day was occupied in the usual inspections of rifles, kits &c, and cleaning up.
25th February: Parades were carried out.
26th February: Parades were carried out. The G.O.C. 1st Division, Major General STRICKLAND, inspected the battalion at work and expressed his appreciation of their work.
27th February: Parades were carried out – rifle exercise, physical training, bayonet fighting, bombing, platoon drill in New Formation, Company Drill and Saluting exercises.
28th February: Parades were carried out as shown in appendix XII. At 2.45pm the battalion paraded on the training ground. West of CHUIGNOLLES, for presentation of decorations and awards. 10 officers, NCOs and men of the Division, by the Corps Commander. Lt.Gen. Sir W.PULTNEY, KCB, DSO.
The battalion was drawn up in a hollow square facing East and on arrival of the Corps Commander gave the General Salute.
The Corps Commander (who was accompanied by the G.O.C., 1st Division, Major General E.P.STRICKLAND, C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O., and Brigadier General G.S.G. CRAUFORD, CMG, CIE, DSO) presented decorations to the officers and men of the battalion.
1st March: Routine. In connection with the practice of the new system of attack, one section of 3rd Trench Mortar Battery gave a demonstration to the Battalion.
2nd March: Programme of work was carried out by Foot washing at the baths at CHUIGNEZ was carried out by all Companies.
3rd March: LINE OF MARCH: The battalion moved from CHUIGNOLLES to front line trenches - right sub-sector, right brigade, Lt.Col. E. Monteagle-Browne, DSO assumed temporary command of 3rd Brigade and Captain V.L.C. Manning, M.C. assumed temporary command of the Battalion. The Battalion relieved the 1st Cameron Highlanders and on relief disposition were: "D" Company right front company; "B" Company left front Company; "C" Company support company; "A" Company reserve Company. Relief was completed without incident about 10pm.
4th March: FRONT LINE TRENCHES: Trenches in pretty fair condition save for front line. Much good work was done in improving this, several trench boards being laid, fire steps improved, and trench cleaned up. D Company sent out an officer's patrol, but its operations were hampered owing to numerous Very lights sent up by enemy. B Company sent out an NCO's patrol – who reported on conditions of enemy's wire. Our snipers claimed two hits.
5th March: A large fall of snow during the night made the trenches very dirty and men had to work very hard to keep the front line clear. Much good work has already been done and the whole front line is now passable. D Company sent out on officer patrol (2nd Lt. KELLY) until the object of bombing a snipers post in St. ELOI WOOD. The sniper however was not discovered. B Company sent out an officers patrol (2nd Lieut O.C. STOKES) at 3am.
5th/6th March: Patrol consisted of six men under 2Lt O.C. STOKES. Their object was to reach the German wire and bomb the front line. 2nd Lt. STOKES, No. 4170 Sergeant HAWLEY and three men went through a gap in the German wire and proceeded to bomb the front line. When returning 2nd Lt STOKES and Sgt HAWLEY got caught in the German wire and a machine gun opened fire on them – wounding both. The Germans sent out flanking parties to try and cut off the remainder of the patrol, but they did not succeed in doing so. The patrol returned and reported the incident. C.S.M. DENNELY and a Sgt. at once went out but could find no trace of either 2nd Lt STOKES and Sgt HAWLEY, both of whom were therefore reported "Wounded and Missing."
5th March: About 8pm, "A" Company (Reserve) relieved "B" Company (left front line).
6th March: Trenches still very dirty and Companies had plenty of hard work to do in keeping them clear. About twenty new trench boards were laid, and many others were taken up and re-laid sump pits being dug. "A" Company sent out a patrol from BERRY SAP with the object of noting the position of any German working parties. None were heard. D Company sent out two officers patrols (2nd Lts. KIDD and KELLY). Nothing of incident occurred.
7th March: Work carried out cleaning and improving trenches. The battalion was relieved by 2nd Welch Regiment about 9pm. "D" Company, 2/R.M.F. was relieved by "B" Company and 2 platoons of "C" Company 2/Welch. "C" Company 2 RMF was relieved by "D" Company 2/Welch.
7th/8th March: "B" Company, 2/R.M.F. (Reserve) was not relieved, but remained on under the tactical command of Officer Commanding 2/Welch Regiment. The strength of 2/Welch Regiment was not enough to enable them to relieve the four Companies of 2/R.M.F. On relief, the Battalion moved to support area, in relief of 1st Gloucester Regiment.
8th March: SUPPORT AREA: The Battalion was billeted in dugouts and everyone was comfortable. The day was devoted to cleaning up and rest. Work was carried on in three "strong points" each garrisoned by one platoon.
9th March: SUPPORT AREA: Work carried on during the day on various strong points. A and C Companies foot-washed at night (7-9.30pm) at 141 F.A. Assevillers.
The circumstances of the death of Henry Mercer Chapman
This diary record leaves us without any indication of the detail of Henry's death. The newspaper report given (above) suggests a shelling of trenches. No specific actions were planned for that period. The 'order of the day' for this period was to consolidate the trenches with a view to making them more comfortable and effective. Alternative causes might be speculated to include a sniper.
The Casualty Summary List for March 1917 (NCOs and Other Ranks), shows a low level of casualties that confirm a low level of active engagement, as reported in the war diary for that period. Shelling was sporadic and random - often tit-for-tat, to suppress the men going about their daily routines in the trenches or leading raids.
The casualty records show:-
5th March, one wounded; 6th March, one wounded; 7th March, four wounded and one to hospital.
On 8th March, the end of the rather ragged relief action, there are only 2 deaths recorded, no injured, 9 sent to hospital. The Commonwealth War Records show the second man to be 15101, Private J GOSBIE, 2/RMF (mistakenly recorded at times as C Cosbie). This marked a peak in numbers out of kilter with the otherwise random single losses in this period. The most vulnerable time for soldiers in these circumstances was when relief actions were in progress that attracted attention and these are the most likely circumstances for Henry's death at the Front near CHUIGNOLLES.
We do not know which Company Henry served in, but it may be that when there were delays in the relief of "B" Company overnight (7th/8th), when their comrades had been relieved during the day-time (7th)? We have to leave that question open. Henry had seen more severe engagements than the one that claimed his life.
He was awarded the Victory and British Medals – issued to his widow (now married to Robert Dunkin of Laburnum Cottage, Boughton, near Faversham) on 3rd January 1927. [See Appendix 1]