The Parker family lived in Great Ponton where George Palmer b. 1787 was a Wheelright and later a Publican in Far Lane. His son Parker Palmer born about 1823 was a Journeyman Blacksmith who settled in Burton-le-Coggles around 1863 where his son George Palmer was born. George Palmer became a Blacksmith like his father before him and in 1891 is recorded visiting his parents in Burton-le-Coggles in company with Sarah Jane Pick of Witham-on-the-Hill. George duly married Sarah and they settled at the Smithy, Church Street, Corby where they lived for over 30 years. Cyril George was born in 1892 followed by Arthur Wilfrid 1895, William Parker 1898 and Doris Marguerite 1899.
William enlisted age 19 on 25 April 1916 at Buckingham Gate, London. The period of service was set at 3 years or the duration of the war whichever was longer. He gave his profession as a Blacksmith’s assistant and address as Church Street, Corby. However the Grantham Journal obituary reports that at the time of his enlistment he was living at the house of Captain Harbord, South Kensington, London. This might well explain why he enlisted in London and his choice of Guards was probably influenced by the fact that his older brother Wilfrid was serving with the Coldstream Guards.
William trained with the 5th Battalion until 9 June 1917 when he sailed from Folkestone to France. After completing final training he spent 3 weeks with an entrenching Battalion until he joined the 1st Grenadiers in Belgium on 8 August 1917. On 12 October 1917 the 1st Grenadiers were about to go into action just north of the Ypres-Staden railway near the Houthulst Forest. On the other side of the railway barely 500m away another man with family in Corby was also waiting for Zero Hour.
The Porter family were from Aslackby where Joseph Porter b.1828 was an agricultural labourer and groom. He and Naomi had 7 sons of which Daniel b.1858 was the eldest. Daniel married Mindy Reedman b.1879 at Nassington and in 1891 they were living in Bulby. Mindy was a name that is frequently miss-spelt on registers, e.g. Mindey, Minday, Minnie. Daniel was an agricultural labourer and moved frequently; in 1901 they lived at Quarry Cottages, Irnham. A son Joseph was born in 1897 and 2 daughters Ethel b.1898 and Sarah Ann b.1900 followed. In 1911 the family less Joseph were living in Bitchfield Road, Ingoldsby.
Joseph had stayed at Irnham and in 1911 was employed as servant to Mr Wm. Harrison of Marwood House. Joseph enlisted in Newark about October 1914 and joined the 7th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment; at the time he was employed by Mr Joseph Hutchinson of Westborough Lodge, Newark. He went out to France on 11 August 1915. His obituary in the Grantham Journal gave his parents address as Corby Heath. Joseph had survived Loos, the Somme and Arras; on 12 October the Battalion was part of 51 Brigade, 17 Division on the right of the Guards.
12 October 1917 Houthulst Forest
The battle of Broodseinde Ridge on 4 October had been another success, the third in a row. The German had planned their own attack that day starting 30mins after the British. The British bombardment had caught them in the open and crept through them with devastating results. All looked set fair to continue on 9 October in the Battle of Poelcappelle. Unfortunately the weather did not set fair, heavy rain started on 7 October and lasted for 2 days. The area in front of Passchendaele was pock marked with shell holes and the drainage of the area had been destroyed creating a quagmire. Not enough artillery was brought up and what did arrive sank quickly into the ground unless it could be mounted on wooden platforms. The tracks became unusable and wooden duckboards became the only method of crossing this wasteland and any man who lost his footing was in serious risk of drowning. Troops took up to 12 hours to reach their start lines and some failed to make it losing contact with the feeble barrage that proceeded them.
Only in the north where fighting had been less intense was the ground capable of withstanding the preparation for the attack. With sufficient guns moved up to protect the infantry the French on the left and British Fifth Army made an advance of up to 2.5km. This advance is shown by the 12/10 red dashed line on the map above, elsewhere the gains were insignificant and are not shown. Miss-information on the success of the battle led to the decision to follow up the attack on 12 October.
The conditions in the Passchendaele valley were now appalling and the attack troops had a new problem to deal with, the New Zealanders found that their positions were crammed with wounded from the 9th October and had to commit their reserves to clear the battlefield. In the north of the Battlefield the French were to hold their ground whilst the Guards Division on their right advanced to the edge of the Forest. On their right 17 Division would advance astride the Ypres-Staden railway and 4 Division would capture Poelcappelle.
The map below shows the line up of the Battalions astride the railway. The Grenadiers HQ was in a captured pillbox codenamed Egypt House. The Poelcappelle-Houthulst road was their frontline with the King’s Company on the right and 2 Company to the left. King’s (Queen’s Company today) is the No 1 Company of the Grenadier Guards and provide the pallbearers at the Monarch’s funeral. Nos 3 and 4 Company were lined up behind and would make the advance.
The 8th South Staffordshire and 7th Lincolns shared their HQ in another strongpoint on the railway west of the road. The South Staffs were lined up on the road left of the railway and the Lincolns to the right.
At 5:25 the barrage opened and after 8mins started to move forward. B & C Companies led the way to the first objective. At 6:50m reports came through that the first objective had been taken but that casualties were fairly heavy. A & D companies passed through to attack the second and final objectives. At 7:00 Major Peddie moved forward to establish the Battalion advance HQ at Taube Farm (code name). At 8:00 am it was reported that the companies were in possession of the final objective and in contact with the 8/South Staffs on the left and 10/Sherwood Foresters on the right.
When Major Peddie, Captain King and 2 orderlies arrived at Taube Farm it was found that the enemy were still in possession even through the advance companies had passed through. The timely arrival of the supporting A Coy of 7/Border Regt ensured that the garrison of about 100 including 9 officers, a heavy MG and trench mortar surrendered to Major Peddie. At another shelter 60 more prisoners were taken later in the morning. Many of the enemy had been killed in the attack by the artillery barrage and rifle fire. The positions were consolidated during the afternoon under shellfire and persistent sniping. Later several counter-attacks at Turenne Crossing were repulsed by A Coy under Capt McCarroll who had been wounded early during the day but remained at his post.
The Battalion was relieved on the morning of 14 October. Casualties were 2 officers killed, 8 wounded, 28 ORs killed, 170 wounded and 43 missing. Joseph was amongst the missing.
8th South Staffs
On the other side of the railway it did not go so well. The South Staffs followed the barrage with A Coy on the left and B Coy on the right. By the time they reached the first objective all the officers in A Coy had become casualties. At this stage the Germans could be seen retreating to the east towards the railway and the leaderless men now lost direction pursuing the enemy and crossing the path of B Coy. This was seen by their CO, Lt-Col Barker DSO and he started to correct the movement by sending a platoon of C Coy to fill the gap but before this could become effective he was seriously wounded.
By the time the platoon moved, A Coy had already passed Aden House and there was now a large gap on the left and no contact with the Grenadiers. OC D Coy had also sent one of his platoons to assist but by now MG fire from Aden house forced A Coy and the 2 platoons to dig-in along the road. At 12:30 am the Battalion had suffered 200 casualties and there was only 1 wounded officer left with all 4 Companies plus the Adjutant and Signals Officer at the HQ. Once it was daylight communications between the HQ and the Companies was not possible. 15 runners were sent out but all were hit by snipers.
The South Staffordshire dug in on the left of the road in the photograph, the railway is further to the left. Angle Point was at the end of the line of Poplars, the Grenadiers were out to the right, 4 Coy in line to the photographer. The ground is rising to the right towards Houthulst Forest. The snipers in the forest would have a clear view all the way to the railway. The railway is now a cycle way that can be ridden from Ypres.
Prior to Zero hour 2 platoons of Scots Guards arrived at Egypt House to assist if required to maintain contact with 17 Division. The attacking companies were required to make a left ‘wheel’ as they went forward extending their line to the right as they moved. A complicated attack manoeuvre under fire and the addition of the Scots Guardsman was a good tactic. Nos 4 & 3 Companies set of at Zero hour and 4 reached its objective on time keeping touch with the left of 3 Company. The left of 3 Company reached its objective but the right lost touch with the South Staffs. The Company was forced to “refuse its flank”, this term describes how a unit without friendly troops to its side/flank will angle back its formation to defend against the enemy coming around behind ie outflanking. At this stage an officer had to be detached to bring up the Scots Guards platoons as their officer had been killed; OC 3 Company was also killed. The Scots Guards platoons came under heavy MG fire from Aden House and were forced to dig in short of Angle Point.
The Battalion was relieved on 13 October, casualties were 2 officers killed, 1 wounded, 36 ORs killed or died of wounds, 200 ORs wounded or missing.
William Parker was buried at Cement House cemetery Langemark about 4.5km back from the fighting. The cemetery took its name from the code name for a fortified farm alongside its location that was used by Field Ambulance units as a Dressing Station. In recent years the cemetery had been regularly used for the reburial of remains still being discovered in the Salient. There are 3 men from the 1st Battalion buried on 12 October 1917 that were probably brought to the Dressing Station where they died of wounds. William’s grave can be found in block XIV, row E, grave 8.
William’s parents George and Sarah would have received a telegram normally within a week. At the same time Daniel and Mindey Porter at Corby Heath would have their telegram informing them that Joseph was missing. For them it was a long and anxious wait only to have any hope dashed in October 1918 when they heard officially that Joseph was presumed to have died. They may not have been at the Heath for any length of time as they chose to have Joseph remembered on the memorial in Ingoldsby Church
Note: Regrettably the date on the memorial is incorrect
1st Grenadier Guards War Diary
7th Lincolns War Diary
8th South Staffs War Diary
The History of the Lincolnshire Regt 1914-18, Maj-Gen C R Simpson, CB.