Instead of doing a piece on gardening in November I thought it appropriate in remembrance month to write about a local hero.
John Noble was born at Girton and prior to being ‘called up’ lived at Normanton on Trent. He, like many of his generation was a farm worker and knew little of the world beyond his very limited travels. He enlisted in the 1st. Lincolnshire regiment with the regimental number of 9735. After a short time at the Lincoln barracks he was stationed at Portsmouth for basic training. He trained as a rifleman.
He was mobilised at 18.00 hours on the 4th of August 1914 along with 24 officers and 673 other ranks. Four days later 543 reservists joined from the barracks in Lincoln, now they were considered to be ready for war. On the 13th of August John and the rest of his battalion left Southampton for France on the Norman. Their transport sailed separately on the Italian Prince.
After an uneventful crossing they disembarked at Le Havre and marched to camp in the hot sun at Harfleur Plateau six miles away. Most of them had never left their town or village where they lived and too many of them would never return. The next day they left Harfleur by train for Landrecies which was reached by 6 p.m. on the 16th of August. The very next day they were to form part of the 9th infantry brigade. 3rd division British Expeditionary Force. The Lincolns took up position on the left of the 5th French Army at Le Cateau, east of the Fort de Mormal. During this period, they were billeted at Leval.
On the 21st of August they received a 3 day movement order north but, due to the French 1st and 2nd armies retreating, a manoeuvre they were well known for, the Lincolns were to fill the gap and found outposts on the line of the Geognies - Bray road. From the Mons to Mauberg railway.
The first shot fired by the Lincs was by Captain Guy Ellison who fired at a German spotter aircraft as it passed over their position. On the 23rd and 24th of August the Lincolns had their first contact with the enemy on the Cuemes to Mons road. The Lincolns erected barricades of paving slabs and felled trees to provide cover. A number of Lincoln’s were wounded but the Germans were made to retreat hastily. At 6 p.m. the Lincolns were ordered to retreat from Cuemes to act as a rearguard to the 9th brigade at Framers.
The 24th German artillery shelled their position and they took shelter in an orchard. The enemy abandoned their advance after accurate fire by the Lincolns made it impossible to continue. Regimental casualties on 23rd/24th of August amounted to four officers and 130 other ranks, of the wounded only those capable of walking escaped, the more severe cases, and a number of stretcher bearers were taken prisoner.
The next day the Lincolns set out towards Inchy on the lE chateau to Cambrai road. Early in the day they opened fire on a German Tube aircraft and brought it down. This gave the Lincolns the distinction of being the first B.E.F. to bring down an enemy plane. The next morning the battalion was formed up on the main street of Inchy and each man was given a piece of bread and a drink of tea.
Their next task was to dig trenches to the south of the village halfway down an open slope. After heavy enemy embarkment the order was given to withdraw and both the Lincolns and the Northumberland fusiliers did so.the enemy was kept bust by bombardment from the 107 and 108 batteries of the divisional artillery. As the last men of the Lincolns came abreast of the 108 section the gunners disabled and abandoned their guns. As they had run out of ammunition.
This was the Lincolns part in the battle of Le Cateau, their losses were 1 officer wounded and left behind, 3 other ranks killed, 40 wounded and 50 missing. This carried on throughout the rest of 1914 with the men in wet, rat infested trenches living on hard tack biscuits and bully beef. They did get fairly regular mugs of tea which was made from water that was carried in old petrol cans. Not a pleasant taste but it was all they got. At the end of 1914 and after six major battles the battalion had lost 1336 men. And we complain if the bus is late!
1915 started with the Lincolns only being involved in minor skirmishes until 22nd April when the second battle of Ypres commenced, this lasted until 26th of May and was closely followed on 16th June by the battle of Aubers ridge. Before the first attack at Bellawaarde (Aubers Ridge) the first battalion were reinforced 1430 men most of whom were fresh from the 3rd battalion who were fresh out from Grimsby, they had been guarding the south side of the Humber estuary.
These men were thrown in at the deep end with the battle hardened troops which must have got their attention. John Noble again played his part in the proceedings and on June 16th relieved his own brother George (2nd battalion Lincolns) in the battle of Auberge ridge at Bellawaarde.
Although they would not have had time to exchange pleasantries it was the first time they had been on a major battlefield together and the last time ever they would meet. 1915 again carried on with many minor skirmishes and many hours wet through and freezing in the trenches.
The following is taken from the battalion war diaries of Captain W.M. Littleton 27.1.1916 Today being the Kaiser’s birthday seemed to upset the enemy who shelled indiscriminately all day from the front line back to Armentieres doing very little material damage.
The Hospice Civile was struck by a shell, but no troops were in the building at the time. 28.1.1916 An artillery duel developed during the morning and was continued, with intervals throughout the day. Some 7.7 cm. and 10.5 cm shells struck number 75 trench incurring slight damage. Casualties 1 other rank killed and 3 wounded.
The other rank that was so casually noted by his commanding officer as being killed was my great uncle. John Noble. A young man of Normanton on Trent . He now lays and will always lay in foreign soil.
That resting place is grave 1X.E.32 in Cite Bonjean cemetery, Armentieres. Captain Littletons diary for the next day started “ a quiet day” it was even quieter for John Noble.
Great Uncle John’s battalion continued to fight bravely after his death and were part of 21 major battles. I thank my great uncle and all of those who fell and were wounded for giving their lives so that I may live in peace.
They must never be forgotten