Private Arthur James Beckett
London Regiment (London Scottish) 1st/14th Batallion
Died of wounds on 26th April 1918 (Aged 19) in France
Son of Albert John and Charlotte Beckett, 63 Norfolk House Road, Streatham, London
Private Beckett died on 26th April 1918 as a result of wounds incurred whilst fighting. However, the war diaries show that there was no fighting on this day involving the 168th Brigade, of which Private Beckett was a member, and that the most recent battle occurred on the 19th April. It is therefore reasonable to assume that it was during this conflict that Private Beckett suffered his injuries.
The 168th Brigade had originally planned an advance for the 18th April, but this was postponed to the next morning to give them time to make the appropriate arrangements. The "zero hour" of 04:30 was chosen because this was when the sun was set to rise. At 04:12:30, the code word "Lion" was shouted to inform everyone that the assembly had been completed. Fortunately for the British, the enemy had "not erected wire" and there were no "visible obstacles to an attack". Moreover, Mother Nature appeared to be on their side as at 04:30 a "driving shower of hailstones" descended; this prevented the enemy from hearing the British advance and also meant that German guards briefly ran for cover, giving the British an advantage.
When the British reached the objective trench, they are said to have killed one sentry (guard) and taken a German Sergeant Major prisoner. It is at this point in the war diary that a private soldier "carrying a stretcher" is said to be "sniped by his comrades"; this man later "died in hospital". Considering that Private Beckett died of wounds within a few days of this incident, it is quite possible that he is the "private soldier" being described.
Interestingly, the British troops thought that a series of green lights was their own S.O.S message, when in fact it was that of the Germans. This misinterpretation led to the British reinforcements opening fire.
As the British attempted to consolidate their position in the trench, it is written that the German snipers were "extremely active": it was during this time that the vast majority of the British casualties were incurred, meaning it is possible that Private Beckett was amongst those injured.
It was decided that a pillbox was of great importance to the British cause. The British began shelling the enemy lines in anticipation of a "strong counter attack at dusk" and, as expected, enemy artillery fire had increased by 18:00. The first group to reach the pillbox were swiftly pushed back by the enemy, and the second group incurred casualties after being subjected to gun fire "at short range".
The decision to withdraw was received at 19:40 and the British had carried out this order by 22:30. In total, five British soldiers were killed - enemy casualties were double this. Thirty-one British troops were wounded, one of which was Private Beckett, and one soldier was wounded and missing.
Private Beckett is now buried in the Etaples Military Cemetery in France, along with 10,770 other Commonwealth soldiers who lost their lives fighting in the First World War.
War Diary, The London Scottish 1/14th Batallion, The London Regiment, 18-26th April 1918, WO 95/2956/1
http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/498934/BECKETT,%20ARTHUR%20JAMES [Accessed 22/11/2015]
http://www.cwgc.org/find-a-cemetery/cemetery/56500/ETAPLES%20MILITARY%20CEMETERY [Accessed 22/11/2015]
By Brendan, Year 12