Albert Minchinton’s Story

Albert was the only child of his parents, Joseph and Mary Minchinton. His father was a stone mason from Norton. His mother had been born Mary Tavender – an old Stoke name going back to the earliest census return in 1841.

Albert was about 33 years old when war broke out and his medal record card states that he arrived in France on 12th September 1914. He does not appear to have spent any time in training, which makes me wonder if perhaps he had been a regular soldier at one time.

Albert was in the 1st Battalion of the Dorsetshire Regiment. This Battalion (part of the 5th Division) landed at Le Havre on 16th August 1914. It took part in the Battle of Mons and the subsequent retreat; then the Battle of Le Cateau on 26th August and Le Marne 6th to 10th September. Albert could have joined them in time for the La Bassée and Messines battles in October 1914.

Antwerp, Ypres and Nieuport

Antwerp, Ypres and Nieuport

By October 1914, in “the Race to the Sea”, the Allies had reached Nieuport on the North Sea coast and the Germans had captured Antwerp. The British Expeditionary Force retreated to Ypres after Antwerp fell. The Allied position around Ypres took the shape of a small salient in the trench lines. The Allies would defend Ypres by means of this salient for the remainder of the war.

La Bassée – 13th October 1914 Bethune, Abbeville and Ypres Salient

La Bassée – 13th October 1914
Bethune, Abbeville and Ypres Salient

On October 13th, 1914, soon after Antwerp fell, the British Second Army Corps (with General Smith-Dorrien in command) after having marched from Abbeville to Bethune, was fighting its way towards La Bassée and Lille. Two days previously, two of its divisions, the 3rd and the 5th, had crossed the canal. Albert would have been with the 5th Division.
General Smith-Dorrien ordered his men to occupy positions away to the right, the object being to stop the enemy from reaching La Bassée. The Germans were expecting this move; they had hidden their guns on the high ground, and for the next couple of days desperate fighting took place around that point.

“He (i.e., Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien) particularly mentions the fine fighting of the Dorsets, whose commanding officer, Major Roper, was killed. They suffered no less than four hundred casualties, one hundred and thirty of them being killed, but maintained all day their hold on Pont Fixe.” – Sir John French

“Starting from Festubert, the Dorsets advanced towards Givenchy, to a position near Cuinchy, where the Pont Fixe Bridge crossed the canal. Here their difficulties began. A portion of the brigade fell back because the shell fire was too strong; but the Dorsets remained. They could not go forward, and they would not take a step backward, so they just dug themselves into trenches and clung on to them, for all they were worth. Throughout the day the Germans came on, utilising their much greater strength of numbers in men and guns, but by nightfall the Dorsets had not been ousted from their position. Their losses on this one day were terrible: one hundred and thirty killed, and nearly three hundred wounded.

 

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But the Dorsets were not out for the count; the Germans soon received their come-uppance. In good order they left their trenches. A platoon under Sergeant E. Snashall covered their retirement; but they did not retire more than a few paces. Here the survivors of the battalion halted, forming the Front line which the British held throughout the winter of 1914-1915.

Sergeant Snashall deserves mention for one of the many deeds of heroism undertaken. On the 14th and 15th October, he lay in an exposed position, preventing enemy patrols from reaching the bridge, thus preventing them from crossing the canal.

Another act of distinction was rewarded also with the Distinguished Conduct Medal (D.C.M.), gained by Sergeant-Major Vivian, as it was largely owing to his daring and coolness that his company, facing great odds against them, managed to get away safely.

Taken from: “The Dorsets, Actions in Great War (WWI, World War 1, First Great European War) to 1915”

Fighting around Ypres continued until 22nd November when the onset of winter forced a break in hostilities. One soldier, Private Donald Fraser, said “one was not a soldier unless he had served on the Ypres front.”

The weather was cold and miserable that winter. On Christmas Eve the rain turned to hard frost which made life in the crude trenches slightly more bearable.

It was Christmas 1914 when the famous Christmas Truce took place between German and Allied soldiers. The 1st Dorsetshires were not among the units who were present at the time of the “Truce” but he would have heard about it.

Winter in the trenches

Winter in the trenches

British and German troops fraternise at Christmas 1914

British and German troops fraternise at Christmas 1914


1st Dorsetshires took part in the 2nd Battle of Ypres and the Fight for Hill 60 in April/May 1915.

The War Diary for the 1st Dorsetshires:

Saturday 1st May 1915

Ypres – Hill 60.

Bn remained in trenches on Hill 60 with Devons in close support.

7 p.m. Enemy commenced bombardment of supporting area of Hill 60.

7.15 p.m. Enemy turned on asphyxiating gas from 3 nozzles in front of 38 trench and from 2 in front of 43 to 45 trenches. And also probably from others in front of 60. The direction of the wind saved the garrison of 38, but the garrisons of 60, 43, 45 and 46 got the full benefit of the gas. The situation became critical, but was saved by the prompt action of Captain Batten – senior officer on the spot, and by the equally prompt despatch of reinforcements for O.C. 1st Devons.

The telephones were not working well, but on receipt of a message that an attack on 60 was taking place, Major Cowie Cmdg. Dorsets went into trenches, and took up his position on hill 60 as being the key of the position. [Note. The trench on hill 60 is known as “60” trench and is referred to as 60.] Trenches 43, 45, & 46 were suffering severely from the gas. The enemy in addition to using gas and shelling supporting area heavily with different types of guns, opened heavy rifle and machine gun fire on hill 60 and endeavoured to bomb the flanks of this trench. Beyond sending some bomb throwers up a communication trench the enemy apparently made no attempt to cross the open.

10 pm – The situation had now become practically normal and the firing had much abated. Casualties – one killed, one wounded. Killed by gas poisoning – Lieut C G Butcher. 52 other ranks.

Admitted to Fd Ambulance suffering from gas poisoning Capt. A E HAWKINS, 2/Lt J H C Roberts (since died) 2/Lt J Hodgeson, 2/Lt J Sampson, 3rd Dorsets, 2/Lt S R Weston-Stevens, 3rd Dorsets, and 200 other ranks. Missing – 32 other ranks.

Sunday 2nd May 1915 – The day of Albert Minchinton’s death

Ypres – Hill 60

5.00 a.m. B & C Coys relieved on Hill 60 by Devons, and withdrawn to 39 and 40 trenches.

4.30 p.m. Dorsets relieved in trenches by Devons. Dorsets withdrawn to dugouts.
Casualties – 2 killed, 2 wounded.

From the War Diary, one would imagine that Albert Minchinton had been one of the two killed on Sunday 2nd May. However, “Soldiers Died in the Great War” list the casualties for that day as:

SUNDAY 2nd MAY 1915

Killed in Action

7587 GAMBLING Charles Sgt (DCM)
8310 MARTIN Frederick Sgt
3/7912 KING Tom Christopher Cpl (DCM)
8742 BROWN Stephen Harold A/Cpl
9251 MITCHELL James A/Cpl
3/8068 MONAGHAN William A/Cpl
3/6463 MOSDELL Arthur A/Cpl
8053 WATTS Albert A/Cpl
8933 WILSHER Ernest John A/Cpl
3/8666 HANCHETT Frank L/Cpl
3/8667 HARDMAN Edwin L/Cpl
3/7374 HAYWARD Herbert Sidney L/Cpl
3/8375 RODER John Edward L/Cpl
3/7366 APPLIN Albert Pte
9705 BARWICK George William Pte
10828 BAXTER Thomas Pte
3/8067 BEST Frederick Pte
3/5805 BLEWITT James John Pte
3/8416 BOWERING Robert John Pte
3/7156 BROWN Thomas William Pte
3/8649 BURTON Roland John Pte
9383 CADDY Charles Cecil Pte
3/7233 CANNON James Pte
3/7167 CHANDLER Samuel George Pte
3/7191 CLAYDEN Henry Arthur Pte
3/7169 CRUMP Ernest William Pte
7258 DAVIS Albert Edward James Pte
3/8826 DAVIS Robert Henry Pte
3/7013 DAY Harry Pte
3/8438 DRAKE Robert George Pte
3/8798 DWYER Michael William Pte
3/8383 EDWARDS Edward Henry Pte
3/8140 EVANS John Jenkin Pte
3/8570 FLOWER Tom Pte
3/7113 FURSEDON John Charles Pte
3/8161 HAMMETT William Pte
3/6780 HEBDIGE Charles Pte
3/8672 ISAAC Hopkin Pte
6370 JENNER William George Pte
3/7690 LAWRENCE William Sidney Pte
3/6559 LEMON William John Pte
3/7689 LIGHT James Pte
9803 MANN Thomas Pte
3/8224 MILLMAN Herbert Pte
3/4037 MINCHINTON Albert Pte
9530 MURPHY John Pte
3/6514 OLIVER William Albert Pte
3/8786 PATTEMORE Frederick William Pte
3/7717 PAULL Percy Pte
3/6183 QUENAULT Heddley Charles Pte
12751 RAMSDEN Arnold Pte
9043 RANDALL Charles Henry Pte
3/6469 READ Albert Pte
3/7340 READ Jesse Pte
3/7599 ROBINS Frank Pte
3/6614 SANDERS Alexander William Pte
7172 SHARP Frederick Pte
9437 SPERO John Pte
3/7600 STANLEY William Pte
9629 STONE John Thomas Pte
3/8554 THOMAS Gwilym Pte
7737 TILLEY Harold James Pte
5597 WALKER Henry Edward Pte
3/8695 WHITE William Edward Pte
3/8701 WOODMAN Walter Charles Pte
9670 WOOLTERTON Percy Harold Pte

Died of Wounds

3/8023 BAKER Frederick Pte
3/7041 IRISH William Henry Pte

Died: 9795 WIDMER Eric Pte

It may be, therefore, that Albert was affected by the gas poisoning on Saturday 1st May and died the following day.

Ruth Meech writes in the Dorset Echo in October 2013 about the fighting on Hill 60:

“The story of the gas attack starts on May 1, 1915, at which time the First Battalion of the Dorsetshire Regiment was holding part of the front line at Hill 60, a large spoil heap from the construction of the nearby cutting for the Ypres-Comines railway line that derived its name from the 60 metre contour line that ran through it.

The Regimental History records that May 1, 1915 was a fine sunny day with a very slight south-easterly breeze. The enemy was unusually quiet until around 7.15pm, when they opened a severe bombardment of the hill and the trenches to the right and left, also of the railway cutting in rear. And then, before the sentries could give the alarm, thick white and yellow clouds of gas were shot out of cylinder nozzles from the German trenches opposite.

CSM Ernest Shephard said in his diary entry for May 1: ‘The scene that followed was heartbreaking. Men were caught by fumes and in dreadful agony, coughing and vomiting and rolling on the ground. ‘I ran round at intervals and tied up lots of men’s mouths, placed them in sitting positions and organised parties to assist them to the support dugouts’.

What followed is described in this graphic extract from John Keegan’s The First World War (1998): ‘Today the pockmarks and tumuli of this tiny battle zone still exude an atmosphere of morbidity sinister even among the relics of the Western Front.
‘On May 1, when the soldiers of the First Battalion of the Dorset Regiment clung to the firestep of their trenches as gas seized their throats and the German infantry pounded towards them across no man’s land, the scene must have been as near to hell as this earth can show.

‘The situation was saved by a young officer, Second Lieutenant Kestell-Cornish, who seized a rifle and, with the four men remaining from his platoon of 40, fired into the gas cloud to hold the Germans at bay. The line was held by the Dorsets’ almost inhuman devotion to duty and the Ypres Salient, though pushed back to within two miles of the city, was thereafter never dented.’

Albert is remembered on the Menin Gate Memorial at Ypres. Commonwealth War Grave Commission gives his age as 42 but he would actually have been about 33 years old.

3/4037 Pte A Minchington (born Stoke sub Hamdon; enlisted Lodmoor, Weymouth) was killed in action 2nd May 1915 whilst serving with the 1st Dorsets. He is remembered on the Menin Gate Memorial, Belgium, having no known grave. He was almost certainly killed in the Battle of St Julien which was a continuation of the Battle for Hill 60 and went on until 24th May 1915.
The Military Museum of Devon & Dorset

Albert’s photograph was printed in the Western Gazette on 4th June 1915:
“A. Minchinton (Dorset) Stoke, Yeovil. Killed by gas. The picture is sadly too dark to reproduce here.

The following list contains information about Albert Minchinton. Click on the document name to open a pdf of the document.