Name: George Arthur Lazenby
Service No: 39215
Date of Death: 27/03/1918
Regiment/Service: King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry 5th Bn
Panel Reference: Bay 7. Memorial: Arras Memorial
Additional Information: son of James and Alice Lazenby, of 54 Wykeham St, Scarborough.
Paul Allen writes:
There was once again thick fog on the 3rd day of Kaiserschlact. During the morning of that day, despite stiff opposition, the Germans crossed the Crozat Canal and, by the afternoon, were across the Somme near the town of Ham, thereby threatening III Corps’ line of communications. Two divisions of French infantry shortly arrived to assist the British in trying to hold the ‘grey avalanche’; nevertheless, despite valiant efforts, the so-called ‘Great Retreat’ continued.
Whilst the infantry were fighting their gallant rearguard action, during the afternoon of 23 March a ‘calm and cheerful’ Haig who, up until this time, had played little part in the course of the battle and had been unaware of the disaster which had befallen his command, visited Gough (the commander of Fifth Army) at his Headquarters at Villers-Bretonneux. He would later note in his diary;
‘I was surprised to learn that his troops are now far behind the Somme and the River Tortville. Men very tired after two days fighting and long march back. On the first day they had to wear gas masks all day which is very fatiguing, but I cannot make out why the Fifth Army has gone so far back without making some kind of a stand … ‘ 
Following his meeting with Gough, Haig, now fully aware of the magnitude of the disaster facing Fifth Army, returned to his Headquarters where he met with his French counterpart, Marshal Petain. The two leaders discussed the impending crisis, and Petain eventually suggested that General Fayolle (the commander of the French Reserve Army) take command of all troops between the Oise and Peronne, extending the French left boundary along the line of the Somme from opposite Peronne as far as Amiens, thus with the exception of the British VII Corps north of the Somme, the remnants of Gough’s Fifth Army would in effect be commanded by Fayolle. Haig readily agreed to the suggestion, totally aware of the critical need for reinforcements.
For the troops on the ground the day had been one long, miserable, footsore retreat to the Somme, so reminiscent of a similar retreat from Mons almost 4 years earlier. A machine gunner (Lieutenant Richard Gale) with 42nd Division would later describe it …
‘Dumps of kit and valises lay on the side of the road, disorganised transport and guns were moving to the rear, all intermingled with pathetic groups of refugees … Canteens had been abandoned and their stores of spirits rifled. This was a retreat with all the horrors of panic. There was, as far as we knew, nothing behind us and the Channel ports, save this wretched rabble seemed to have lost all cohesion and the will to fight … ‘
During the afternoon of 23 March, Ludendorff issued orders that were to change the German campaign entirely. Faced with a slow and costly advance in the north of the assault, the German General decided to concentrate all his effort in the south, where his men had already advanced some 40 miles into Allied territory. Thus, the German Fourteenth Army were ordered to head for St Pol, due west of Arras, whilst the Second Army was to advance straddling the River Somme towards Amiens. In addition, the Seventeenth Army was to head southwest to prevent the repair of the junction between the British and the French sectors. In effect Ludendorff was scattering his effort in the assumption that the British were already beaten and that the French would look after number one and try to hold onto their own lines. He was almost proven right.
Often referred to as ‘Sad Sunday’, 24 March 1918 (Palm Sunday) dawned for a change with only a ground mist, which soon disappeared. Nonetheless, in the south, the German advance continued virtually unhindered. General Maxse’s XVIII Corps (consisting of 20th and 30th Divisions, by this time part of the French Third Army) still retained a tenuous hold on the Somme to the north of Ham. However, from there, 2 German divisions had pushed forward to fall on the already much depleted 36th (Ulster) Division, destroying 2 more battalions of infantry in the process. Nevertheless, on a happier note, due south of Ham, at Villeselve at around 2pm that afternoon,150 cavalrymen of the British 6 Cavalry Brigade charged units of the German 5th Guard Division, killing and wounding around 88 of the enemy with their sabres and taking a further 107 prisoners at a cost of 73 casualties to themselves.
The situation was equally bleak on Third Army’s front to the north. Whilst the VI and XVII Corps on the left flank had stood virtually in their original positions, the right of V Corps had been driven back over 15 miles and had taken up positions in the High Wood area of the old Somme battlefield of 1916 and, during the afternoon General Headquarters had ordered Third Army to fall back even further, to the line of the Ancre [a tributary of the Somme].
On Tuesday, 26 March, the British abandoned the city of Albert. Long a symbol of the enduring British presence on the Somme, the city fell with barely a whisper. Whilst the men of the German 3rd Marine, and 51st Reserve Divisions were making their victorious way into the already shattered city to savour the delights of the numerous abandoned wine cellars, away in the town of Doullens a high level meeting between the British and French took place to discuss the sorry state of affairs. On the French side were Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, and Generals Foch and Petain, whilst on the British side Haig, Lord Milner, and Sir Henry Wilson attended.
Trouble between the two factions erupted almost immediately when Petain compared the British withdrawal to the recent flight of the Italians at Caporetto. However, a semblance of order was eventually achieved and the meeting continued. The restless Foch, who could barely control his emotions, exclaimed ‘we must fight in front of Amiens, we must fight where we are now. As we have not been able to stop the Germans on the Somme, we must not now retire a single inch … ’ Fighting talk indeed. Haig was impressed by the General’s words, words he had in fact been anxiously waiting for anyone to say. Soon a scheme was hatched between the British and French whereby Haig took the previously unimaginable step of committing his forces to the control of the French General Foch.
Foch, in his new overall command role ordered that there be no further retirement, that all present positions must be maintained, Amiens must be defended to the last, there was to be no separation of French and British forces, and that the Fifth Army front should be reinforced. Reinforcements were indeed on their way at that moment. The 5th Division would soon arrive from Italy, and 4 Australian and New Zealand Divisions were to come from Second Army, whilst the French ordered 5 of their divisions southwards.
Amongst those hurrying south were the men of 62nd (2nd West Riding) Division. A Territorial Army formation, which at the start of Kaiserschlact had been holding the line some 7 miles north of Arras in the Acheville and Arleux sectors. The division began to make its journey southwards on 23 March and reached the town of Bucquoy by a series of night marches by 26 March. Attached to Fifth Army’s IV Corps, the division, consisting of the customary 3 brigades of infantry and supporting artillery and transport units, was tasked with providing a rearguard in the line at Bucquoy for the depleted British formations that were retreating through the old Somme battlefield.
By late evening of 26 March the division’s 187 Brigade, consisting of the 2nd/4th, and 5th Battalion’s of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, (the 2/4th (Hallamshire) Battalion of the York and Lancaster Regiment were kept in reserve) took up a defensive flank in a labyrinth of old trenches in the Bucquoy-Puisieux line, on the extreme right of IV Corps facing an enemy-held position known as ‘Rossignol Wood’, from where the brigade came under heavy machine gun fire. Expecting an enemy attack at any moment the men of 2nd/4th and 5th KOYLI prepared themselves for a fight. Despite a feeling of impending danger the night passed quietly and without incident except for some sniping by the enemy; nevertheless, at around 9 am the following day large masses of enemy soldiers were spotted making preparations to attack their position
’The Officer Commanding (OC) ‘B’ Company reported them to be massing in a sunken road to his front. He asked urgently for bombs, but no bombs were available. The position was a network of old trenches up which the usual bombing parties might be expected to attack and, without bombs for countering the attacks, the defenders were at a great disadvantage. ‘B’ and ‘A’ Companies were attacked; the attacks were repeated throughout the day. Twice ‘B’ Company was driven out of the trenches, and twice it recovered them by counter-assault. Heavy casualties were inflicted on the attackers whenever they showed themselves in the open, but when they came bombing up the communication trenches there was no adequate means of opposing them … ’ 
Desperate fighting continued until around 4 pm when the West Yorkshiremen were shelled out of their positions by artillery and trench mortars, in addition to being bombed by aircraft and, despite a desperate attempt to hold on, the battered 2/4th was forced to retire having lost over 160 officers and men. Later that night the 4 companies (each consisting of many 18- and 19-year-old soldiers) of the 5th KOYLI moved into the line in readiness for a counter attack, which was to be mounted the following day.
The 5th KOYLI launched its assault before dawn (4.15 am) on 28 March, the attackers soon coming up against heavy fire from machine guns hidden in Rossignol Wood.
’Three of these, at least, were taken with a rush, but not before they had done fearful execution amongst the assaulting companies. Captain B A Beach saw about 25 men lying in the open and called on them to come on, but found that they were all dead men. Bombs had been issued in time for this advance and there were bombing fights all down the line. It was obvious that the companies had bumped into a strongly held outpost line … ’ 
Despite heavy losses the Battalion retook the Brigade’s old positions before daybreak and had just begun to consolidate their precarious hold on their old positions when the enemy launched a counter-attack their own, which fell on the Yorkshiremen with a vengeance. Outnumbered and virtually surrounded the beleaguered West Yorkshiremen managed to send a final message to battalion headquarters asking for more bombs and reinforcements, neither of which was received. A short while later the enemy launched another assault. One of the few survivors of the attack later recorded…
’It was not long before we saw the enemy in open order on the skyline to our left front, advancing in strength down the hill. The sun was in our eyes, making it hard to spot targets below the skyline. The enemy were well covered by machine guns, which harassed us greatly. Soon one gun was enfilading our straight line of trench making it untenable. 2/Lt. F.C. Lambert spotted this gun and with his Lewis gun he either silenced it or made it move. Our next trouble was from a [disabled] tank in front. The Germans were either in it or behind it, and we could not silence it. The position was becoming very unpleasant, we were suffering heavily too.
‘I made one or two journeys to get men from the higher end [of the trench]. On my way back from one of these journeys I noticed that the German machine gunners had crept closer, and I found that Lt. Lambert and the men around him were dead and their gun damaged. Shortly after I found that the men on my left were being driven back on me by a bombing party of the enemy; they were attempting to reply with their rifles. Some tried to leave the trench in an endeavour to extricate themselves, but they were immediately shot down. Bombing and machine gun fighting gradually died down. I found myself left with an officer and about four men, and discovered the enemy right in our rear to be advancing on us by way of the old communication trench; they were between us and Rossignol Wood. It was obvious that unless we moved quickly we should be hopelessly lost. We were already lost, but could not realise it … ’ 
[The unnamed author of the above account was eventually taken prisoner by men of the elite Prussian Guard, who he noted as ‘absolutely fresh, shaved, clean boots, with uniform and equipment in perfect condition. Their open fighting was excellent and outmatched ours, whose only experience had been in trench warfare’].
Spasmodic fighting continued throughout the remainder of that day. At around 5.30 pm5th Battalion’s CO, Lt Col Cyril Spencer Watson, set out with his sole remaining ‘D’ Company to try to reinforce his hard pressed front. By this time the KOYLI’s position was surrounded and Watson found his way solidly blocked by enemy troops. Deciding that there was no other sane option open to him other than to retire he ordered the company to fall back. Being the gentleman he reportedly was, Colonel Watson allowed his men to fall back whilst he remained behind in a communication trench to hold back the enemy for as long as he could, armed with little more than his service revolver. Inevitably, Watson was killed at some point during the withdrawal and his remains, like those of so many of his men, were never recovered. Lt Col Watson was subsequently awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross during May 1918 (‘Gazetted’ in the London Gazette of 8 May 1918).
Unbelievably, the remnants of the 2 battalions continued to hold their line until the welcome arrival of Australian troops during the evening of 28 March and, although their positions continued to be heavily bombarded by artillery, there were no further infantry attacks, with the surviving members of the 2/4th and 5th KOYLI finally being allowed to return to billets in the village of Authie during the first day of April.
Whilst in the relative comfort of Authie the customary post-battle calling of the 2 battalion’s rolls revealed the 2nd/4th KOYLI had lost over 180 men, the strength of the battalion being reduced to 7 officers and around 200 other ranks, whilst the 5th Battalion had lost 16 officers killed, wounded, and missing, and the ‘other ranks’ had lost 28 men killed, 80 wounded, and 268 missing in action. A number of these missing men were later found to have been taken prisoner but, nevertheless, many were never to be seen or heard of again; amongst these was 19-year-old 39125 Private George Arthur Lazenby.
Born in Scarborough at 54 Wykeham Street during 1899, George was the youngest son of Alice and James Lazenby, a labourer who worked for many years for Scarborough Council. 
One of a handful of Scarborough’s First World War casualties who died during the conflict leaving behind little or no personal information, the author has been unable to trace any information locally regarding Private Lazenby. Nevertheless, scraps of information indicate that he was conscripted at the age of 18 into the army at Scarborough during September 1917 and was originally been issued with the service number 82272, with which he initially trained and served in the north of England with 90th Training Reserve Battalion. Shortages of men at the front inevitably saw Lazenby being posted during February 1918 to an infantry training depot in France before being posted to the Western Front and the 5th KOYLI.
Officially recorded as having been killed in action during Wednesday, 27 March 1918, the remains of George Lazenby have never been recovered from the battlefield at Rossignol Wood; his name subsequently being commemorated in Bay 7 of the Memorial to the Missing at Arras. In Scarborough, George’s name is commemorated on the Oliver’s Mount Memorial (incorrectly spelt as ‘Lazemby’). Having lived all his life in Wykeham Street one would have imagined that Lazenby would have been a pupil of Gladstone Road School; however, his name is not commemorated on the School War Memorial. Neither can George’s name be found on any of Scarborough’s surviving church memorials. .
In addition to the Oliver’s Mount War Memorial, the missing George Arthur Lazenby is commemorated on two memorials in Scarborough’s Manor Road Cemetery. The first (broken) gravestone is located in the cemetery’s Section O, Row 9, Grave 5, and also contains the names of George’s grandparents, Charles (who had died on 6 June 1900 at the age of 57) and Eliza Lazenby (who had passed away almost exactly a year later, on 7 July 1901, at the age of 65). The second memorial is located in Manor Road’s Section P, Row 11, Grave 5; this also marks the final resting place of George’s parents, Heslerton-born James Lazenby, who died ‘suddenly’ at his home at 54 Wykeham Street on Friday, 21 October 1927 at the age of 61, and Burniston-born Alice Lazenby who subsequently passed away at the age of 83 in the house at 54 Wykeham Street where her children were born and the family lived for over 50 years, during Thursday, 9 March 1950.
 The private papers of Douglas Haig 1914-19; Eyre & Spotiswoode; London; 1952.
 History of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in the Great War 1914-1918; Wylly & Bond; 1929.
 At the time of the 1901 Census the Lazenby’s were still residing at 54 Wykeham Street, the family by this time consisting of James, 35, employed as a ‘navvy’, Alice, 35, Thomas Charles, 11, Mary Elizabeth, 8, and 2-years-old George Arthur. All were Scarborough born.
 George is one of two Scarborough casualties of the Great War commemorated on the Oliver’s Mount Memorial with the surname of Lazenby, the second being George’s cousin: 3768 Private John William Lazenby (also incorrectly recorded as ‘Lazemby’)