Died : 9th May 1915
George Waller is one of three men commemorated on the war memorial to die in the same battle on the same day. They were all in the 5th (Cinque Ports) Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment. Indeed they were all in the same company and the same platoon as each other. They were pals yet did not all enlist at the same place or time. Each biography will start with the same description of the Battle of Aubers Ridge, then give brief personal details.
The small town of Aubers sits on a low ridge not far from Armentières. It is only slightly higher than the ground in front of it. Height however is vital in battle and even more so in an entrenched situation. The side occupying the higher ground can look into his enemy’s positions and any attack on it has the disadvantage of fighting uphill. The Germans in this and most other cases occupied the high ground. The low ground around this area was only a few feet above sea level and very, very wet. The British trenches were water logged and it was necessary to build breastworks for even elementary protection. It was a most unpleasant place.
Several vicious battles were fought in the general area of Aubers early in 1915. They happened for two main reasons. First to stem the German advance and then to retaliate and wage a policy of offensive war. The Battle of Aubers Ridge had the additional objective of relieving the pressure against the Russian Front which had been growing since late 1914. By May 1915 the Germans were entrenched on the Western Front and major attacks were mainly by the allies.
At 05.00 on 9th May an artillery bombardment by 142 guns and howitzers attempted to rain destruction on the German positions for 40 minutes. The barrage was ineffective owing to a shortage of time and an inadequate supply of reliable shells. Leading companies of each British front line Battalion crawled out of their trenches at 05.30 just as our barrage intensified but they were met by heavy machine gun fire. It had been hoped to carry out this initial advance unmolested and no provision had been made for covering small-arms fire. Our men were cut down. When the artillery barrage lifted at 05.40 the main infantry assault began. It was decimated by accurate and intense rifle and machine gun fire. It had proved impossible to silence the German gun positions and our attack faltered. Few soldiers crossed No Man’s Land to reach the German front line. Most were killed or wounded at the onset.
The 1/5th Battalion was in the second line which attacked at 05.40. They were to follow up and merge with the leading battalions. The ‘C’ Company was on the left of the attack. As it began advancing across the open towards the front line trench, an officer and 30 men were killed or wounded. The remains of ‘C’ Company, having reached the front line trench, leapt over the parapet and advanced most gallantly to the support of the 2nd Sussex who were leading, but held up by the enemy fire. This came primarily from machine guns near to the ground in well concealed positions and firing through small loop holes in their parapets. The men out in front were being hit constantly either by bullets or the intense enemy artillery fire which had commenced. No further advance was possible and at 07.00 the order to retire was received. Captain Courthorpe, the Company Commander wrote to the Vicar of Wadhurst, ‘…my poor Company lost 4 officers and 102 N.C.O.’s and men out of 154 whom I took into action.’
Private George Waller (TF/3082) was born on 25th November 1895 at Curd’s Farm, Barcombe, the only son of George and Ann Waller. George was stockman to John Porter at Park Farm, Ringmer and his wife, formerly Godcher, came from Streat. They lived on the Uckfield Road at Ringmer. Educated at Ringmer School from 30th April 1901 to 10th March 1909 George attained his grades each year. He became groom and gardener to Mr William Withers Moore of Wellingham House and it was undoubtedly in the course of that employment that his friendship with Arthur Moore grew. At nineteen George was the youngest of the three to die on 9th May 1915. Like the others he too enlisted into the Territorials. He joined up on 25th November 1914 at Lewes, a while after his friends as his serial number will testify.
All three men of Ringmer killed at the Battle of Aubers Ridge were entitled to the 1914-15 Star, the British War and Victory Medals. They were all in Captain Courthorpe’s ill fated ‘C’ Company and all in the 11th Platoon. In common with most of the casualties from that action they have no known grave and they are each separately commemorated at Le Touret Memorial to the Missing in France.
Adapted from Valiant Hearts of Ringmer by Geoff Bridger: Ammonite Press, 1993