Percy George Trott’s Story
One of the youngest of the men to be killed during the War was Percy George Trott. He was just eighteen years old.
Percy’s father was Henry Trott, born in South Petherton, the son of Samuel and Mary Trott. In 1881 Henry was living with his parents and his seven brothers and sisters, and two nephews at “Little Petherton Cottage” in South Petherton. He was a carpenter. Later that year, he married Eliza Langdon and they settled down in the High Street in Stoke. By 1891, they have had four children, Frederick, Florence, Ethel and Henry. There is a gap of five years between Florence and Ethel, and in the 1911 census they say they have five surviving children out of eight. Perhaps the Gilbert Trott who died aged 2 years old in 1884 was one of the children they lost. Ethel was to die aged 3 in 1892.
By 1901, Henry had become a Publican and Frederick had followed in his father’s footsteps and become a carpenter. There were now six children, Percy was 3 years old.
In 1911, Henry, now aged 51, was still an inn keeper (at the New Inn – now called the Half Moon) and Frederick a carpenter. Harry was a “hawker”, and young Hilda, aged 17, was helping in the pub. Percy was 13 and still at school.
The school log book does not mention Percy, but on 21st April 1899 – “H Trott was punished for being late. I received a note complaining about it, and also saying the teacher had beaten him which he denied.” If this was Percy’s brother, Harry, then he would have been nine years old. On 11th October 1901, “Mrs Trott complained to me of Mr Ward’s treatment to her son Harry. I spoke to him in reference to the matter.”
When war broke out, Percy enlisted in the 6th Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry. Horace Brooks, Harry Turner, George Ralph and Howard Rice were all in the 6th Battalion, as was Arnold Ridley who played Private Godfrey in “Dad’s Army”. The Western Gazette reports that Percy was “one of the first to enlist.”
The 6th Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry was part of the 14th Division which was one of the new divisions of Kitchener’s Army. It was formed of volunteers. Initially without equipment or arms of any kind, the recruits were judged to be ready by May 1915, although their move to the fighting front was delayed by lack of rifle and artillery ammunition.
The 6th Battalion did not take part in the 2nd Battle of Ypres, where his cousins, Fred and Gilbert Trott, were fighting in April 1915. It landed in France on 21st May 1915. George Ralph, Howard Rice and Horace Brooks – all in the 6th – arrived in France on that date. If Percy was with them, then he would have arrived just after the 2nd Battle of Ypres, where his cousins, Fred and Gilbert Trott, had been in the fighting on Hill 60.
Everard Wyrall – The Somerset Light Infantry 1914-18
The Battles of Ypres were drawing to a close when the 6th (Service) Battalion of the Regiment landed in France. Since the raising of the Battalion in August 1914, the 6th had spent the first three months in hard training at Aldershot. A move was then made to Witley Camp, Godalming, the Battalion returning to Aldershot again in February 1915, where brigade and divisional training was continued until the middle of April. The 6th Battalion, Somerset L.I. was now in the 43rd Infantry Brigade of the 14th (Light) Division, braded with the 6th Duke of Cornwall’s L.I., 6th K.O.Y.L.I., and 10th Durham L.I. A month later (about the middle of May) spare kit had been sent home and all ranks awaited embarkation orders. A few days later they came, and on 21st May the Battalion crossed the Channel in an S.E. & C.R. mail boat and, on reaching Boulogne, disembarked. The night was spent in the rest camp on the hills overlooking the town.
In June, the battalion had its first taste of life in the front line trenches, almost 2,000 yards north east of Wulverghem. The war diary for Sunday, June 13th : “The trench life was very quiet. A little shelling early in the morning and desultory rifle fire during the day.”
After a week of being in the trenches, the war diary says “The Battalion who were our instructors were full of praise of the bearing and behaviour of the ‘Kitcheners’, whom they saw for the first time.”
At the end of June, the 6th Somersets marched to Ypres. Percy would have witnessed the desolation of Ypres – whole streets of shattered houses.
The 6th Battalion took part in the 2nd Attack on Bellewaarde from 25th to 26th September 1915 – part of the Battle of Loos. The 6th Somersets were attached to 42nd Brigade during this time and afterwards the G.O.C. 42nd Brigade sent the following letter to the C.O:-
“Dear Colonel Rawling, I have to thank you and your fine regiment for the great assistance you gave me on the 25th. It was not an easy thing to reinforce, in broad daylight, as you did, and the movement was exceedingly well and quickly carried out. You arrived at a critical time and your dispositions were exactly what was required. The company of your Regiment which formed the garrison for the trenches rendered valuable assistance and I much regret to hear of the losses they sustained.”
[Somerset Light Infantry 1914-18 by Everard Wyrall]
The total casualties suffered by the 6th Somersets during the month were: officers, 3 killed, 4 wounded; other ranks, 26 killed, 107 wounded.
At the end of October the 6th Battalion are billeted at Poperinghe. The Diary records: “Spirits of the men splendid. With incessant, rain, plenty of fatigues and no change of clothes and no chance yet of getting warm they can still stand for hours playing and watching football matches.”
Everard Wyrall writes: The first three weeks of November were passed under the most wretched conditions, but on 23rd the Battalion marched to the front-line trenches just north-east of St Jean, relieving the 10th Durham L.I. Two days in and two days out of the front line was the rule at this period, but between the miserable conditions of the billets and the filthy state of the trenches there was little choice. On 14th December the 43rd was relieved by 71st Brigade, the Somersets marching to a camp, described in the Diary as ‘G.5.d’ On 16th the Battalion moved to ‘our old Rest Camp A’ occupied six weeks previously. Here the Somerset men stayed until the close of the year without any incident with the exception of a rumour that the 14th Division was going out to Egypt, which rumour was subsequently dispelled by the receipt of orders for the Division to relieve the 49th Division in the Ypres Salient next to the French.”
I would imagine after the misery of the trenches in winter, the idea of going to Egypt must have been particularly attractive.
The 6th Battalion were not in any more major actions until the battles of the Somme in the summer of 1916. Through the winter of 1915 they suffered “the usual period of torment inseparable from winter in the trenches” (Everard Wyrall). The conditions in the line in January 1916 were terrible. “The front line is in an almost impossible condition and no troops can remain there more than 48 hours without much sickness.” (Battalion Diary)
In February 1916, the Battalion was just south of Arras. They were in a quiet sector of the line and March passed with very few casualties. In April and May, there was a gradual increase in activity. Shelling became more frequent and snipers claimed more victims. The German 150 lb trench mortars (“Crashing Christophers”, the 6th Somerset called them) were beginning to make life uncomfortable in the trenches.
It was during this period that Percy was wounded.
The Western Gazette reports:
5 May 1916 – Wounded at the Front. News was received by Mr & Mrs H Trott on Sunday that their son, Percy Trott SLI was dangerously wounded in the chest and back. A letter was received from the hospital nurse conveying the news and saying that he was getting very attention and that they were hoping for the best.
And then ..
12 May 1916 – Killed at the Front. Stoke people have heard with regret of the death of Private Percy Trott, 6th SLI who died on Thursday last from injuries received from shrapnel. The sad news was received from the nurse at the hospital on Friday last. He was only just 18 years of age, and was amongst the first of the Stoke recruits to enlist. It is a remarkable coincidence that from a row of six houses here, three lads should have given their lives for their country, and within 20 yards another life lost.
Percy is remembered in the Avesnes le Comte Communal Cemetery Extension, west of Arras:
The village of Avesnes-le-Comte was for some time the VI Corps headquarters. The 37th and 30th Casualty Clearing Stations were there from April 1916, the 42nd in June 1916, and the 41st in January 1917.
The communal cemetery contains 2 Commonwealth burials of the First World War, both made in April 1916. Thereafter, burials were made in the extension, which contains 333 graves, 4 of which are unidentified. Most of these were from the 37th CCS which stayed in the village until July 1917.
[Commonwealth War Graves Commission]
The following link opens Percy George Trott Commonwealth War Graves document. Click on the document name to open a pdf of the document.