A Wribbenhall officer at La Boisselle: Second Lieutenant George Major Solloway Foster

Foster_G_M_S_2nd_Lt_10th_Worcestershire_Regiment_The_Sphere_7th_Oct_1916

 

10th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment

Killed in action 3rd July 1916

Foster was born on the 14th March 1888, the sixth child and third son of George Foster (b.1856) and Eleanor Mary Solloway (b. 1862). George Foster began his career as a tea merchant, and the couple was married in 1884. The family was initially resident in Dixon Green, Dudley before moving to Wassell Wood House near Trimpley sometime before the outbreak of war in 1914.

geograph-1074448-by-Row17
Wassell Wood with the house in the distance

 

Foster attended Dudley Grammar School and became a chartered accountant for FW Buckle and Co. at 37 Bennetts Hill, Birmingham. At the outbreak of war, he attested on the 21st September 1914, a very early volunteer to the 16th Birmingham City Battalion with the service number 25. He applied for a commission in February 1915 and was gazetted 2nd Lieutenant on the 4th April 1915 (p.3421 7th April 1915)

 

geograph-2692988-by-P-L-Chadwick
Bennetts Hill, Birmingham

 

He arrived in France on the 7th May 1916 and joined the 10th Battalion in their preparations for the offensive on the Somme. The main action of the battalion was to be the capture of La Boisselle, and the regimental history describes a bitter battle:

 “Shortly after 3 a.m. amid the blazing gunfire all around, a warning order was passed along the line. A few minutes later a second order, unheard amidst the din but quickly sensed, rippled down the ranks. The men rose to their feet, and the order was given to advance. The platoons rushed forward, crossed ” No Man’s Land ” and charged the German defences. A fierce fight followed with bomb and bayonet over successive lines of trenches. The companies became confused, control became impossible and the platoons stormed forward as best they could, led by their subalterns and N.C.Os. …In small groups, the Worcestershire platoons fought their way onwards into the ruins of the village. Ten days of intense bombardment had shattered every house, but the enemy had previously constructed deep dugouts and had strengthened the cellars. In those underground strongholds they had survived the bombardment, and now they swarmed up from their cover to meet the attack.

In and around the smashed heaps of masonry which had once been houses, the British platoons fought with enemies who appeared suddenly and unexpectedly from every side. Only by the momentary light of flares and shell bursts was it possible to distinguish friend from foe. The fighting was hand-to-hand or at point-blank range, with bomb, bullet or cold steel. At various points, individual officers established some sort of order for a moment and attempted a systematic destruction of the German defences. Explosive charges previously prepared were brought up and were thrown down such dugouts as were discovered. But the fighting was too involved and the casualties too rapid for any permanent control.

Battalion Headquarters of the 10th Worcestershire had followed the companies forward
across the trenches. The Commanding Officer, Colonel Royston-Piggott, made his way forward with his Adjutant up to a large mine-crater—the crater of the mine which had been fired on July 1st. There he made certain that his Battalion had reached the village. He dictated to his Adjutant a message to be sent back to Brigade reporting the progress. Just as the message was finished, the Colonel was shot through the heart. A few minutes later the Adjutant also was hit and, for a time, Battalion Headquarters ceased to exercise control.

The first light of dawn enabled the fighters in the village to recognise each other with
certainty, and the struggle reached its climax. Most of the defenders had by that time been killed or captured, although a few strong points still held out. Several of the Worcestershire platoons had fought their way right through the village to the more open ground on the far side. That ground was a tangle of broken hedges in a wilderness of shell-holes. Small parties of troops pushed forward in the excitement of victory, shooting, bombing and collecting prisoners…In the village itself, the last brave remnant of the enemy fought on, holding individual posts for several hours. Those posts were gradually isolated, surrounded and reduced. Strong German counter-attacks were made against the village, but a defensive line had been hastily organised on the eastern outskirts of the village and the counter-attacks were withered by machine-guns and musketry. By midday the fighting in the village was over: the last German post had been taken, and reorganisation was in progress.

KT 29 7 16 crop
Kidderminster Times 27th July 1916

The 10th Worcestershire had reason to be proud of their first battle; for the captured position was of immense strength. The dugouts were so deep and of such solid construction that even after the terrific bombardment of the previous week many of them were still undamaged; and the defenders—troops of the German 13th, 23rd, and 110th Reserve Regiments—had fought to the last. The 57th Brigade captured 153 prisoners—nearly all wounded. But the success had been dearly purchased. The Battalion had lost a third of its fighting strength, including the Commanding Officer and Adjutant. The survivors of the Battalion held on throughout the remainder of the day in such cover as they could find or make, and in the evening the supernumerary officers who had been left behind with the Battalion Transport came up and took over command of the companies….”

 

Private Thomas George Turrall (1885-1964) of the 10th Worcesters won a Victoria Cross in this action.

Foster’s body was recovered and interred near the former British front line. After the war, his body was moved to grave XVI. E. 6 of the nearby Ovillers Military Cemetery. G M S Foster is one of the 61 names on the Dudley Grammar School (now Castle High School) memorial. He is also remembered on his parents’ grave in All Saints’ Churchyard, and the Wribbenhall war memorial.

Stacke, Harry F. M. The Worcestershire Regiment in the Great War. Kidderminster: G.T. Cheshire & Sons, 1928. Print. p.170-1

Kidderminster Times 29th July 1916 p.3

Bennetts Hill photo: © Copyright P L Chadwick and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Wassell Wood © Copyright Row17 and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

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