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Frederick George Divall


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Died : 5 December 1915

frederickdivall

Born on 16th December 1886, Frederick was the third son of Thomas, a cowkeeper, and Fanny Divall of Norlington Lane, Ringmer. Before the end of the War this branch of the Divall family was to move first to North House, London Road, Burgess Hill and then to Westup Farm, Cuckfield. Young Frederick George Divall went to Ringmer School until 17th April 1899 when he left with a labour certificate.

Enlistment into the 6th Battalion Royal West Kent Regiment by Private Divall, number G/13396 occurred on 14th April 1916 at Lewes. By October that year he was considered sufficiently well trained to be posted to France to join his unit as part of the 37th Brigade, 12th (Eastern) Division. Within two months he was dead.

The 12th Division lost heavily in the various actions on the Somme where it was sent after the opening battle. It then had a spell in the relatively quiet sector south of Arras in September 1916. This was to recuperate before being once more flung into action on 7th October. Having been brought up to strength whilst 'at rest', the 6th Battalion was to suffer a further 300 killed and wounded near Gueudecourt just south of Bapaume. This was out of around 500 in action that fateful day. After such a mauling, withdrawal to Montauban to take on reinforcements and to rest, was ordered. It was to this battered but proud battalion that Frederick Divall was sent. He was one of the 211 drafts, which arrived before the whole Division was drawn out and transferred to its old positions at Wailly.

On 30th November the 6th Royal West Kent's took over the front line trenches near Wailly from the 7th East Surrey's who were in the same Brigade. Also in that Brigade were the 6th Buffs (East Kent Regiment) and 6th Queen's (Royal West Surrey Regiment).

It was the avowed policy of Higher Command to wage an offensive war. The idea of live and let live, known to exist in parts of the French front, was totally outlawed by the British. In consequence there was no truly 'quiet' area in our lines. When no major battle was planned or in progress the men had to conduct trench raids or otherwise make themselves as unpleasant as possible to the enemy opposite. The idea was to never let the Germans think they were safe and able to withdraw men from 'that' sector. This policy certainly had its merits but did result in a constant trickle or even torrent of casualties all the time in our areas. The onset of winter merely slowed the attrition - it rarely stopped.

On 5th December a typical trench raid was planned for both the 6th Royal West Kent's and the 6th Queen's. The trench mortars and Divisional Artillery bombarded the enemy's sap heads [short trenches dug outward from the front line] and barbed wire. On a pre-arranged signal two companies of the West Kent's in the front line made a demonstration. They partially climbed out of their trenches and fired at the enemy. This was to draw attention away from a raiding party of the 6th Queen's going out to attack the German trenches and seize prisoners if possible. The entire demonstration was not judged sufficiently noteworthy to warrant any mention at all in the Regimental History of the Royal West Kent's. It did however matter a great deal to the relatives of Private Divall and five of his mates in his battalion who were killed. A further seven were seriously injured in that 'demonstration'. In short, Frederick Divall gave his life in order that others might live.

He is buried in the lovely little cemetery at Wailly Orchard in the Department of the Pas-de-Calais. It is about four miles South West of the large city of Arras. The village is in the valley of the little River Crinchon and the cemetery was formed in part of an old orchard above the village.


Adapted from Valiant Hearts of Ringmer by Geoff Bridger: Ammonite Press, 1993