Name: Herbert Stonehouse
Service No: 28092
Date of Death: 21/03/1918
Regiment/Service: West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales’s Own) 1st Bn
Panel Reference: Bay 4. Memorial: Arras Memorial
Paul Allen writes:
During the dry, fine, moonlit night of 20 March 1918 the area immediately behind the German lines came alive as over 1 million men along with over 10,000 guns and mortars began to assemble in their assault positions. The first to move was the artillery, many of the guns having not yet been moved into their battery positions. Each gun with its already prepared stock pile of ammunition was heaved into position manually by the gunners who, following their labours, had settled down to grab what sleep they could before the beginning of the bombardment at 4.20 am.
For 50 miles, from the village of Cherisy down to La Fere, the German front line trenches were crammed with storm troopers and infantrymen, trench mortar men, machine gunners, and men armed with flamethrowers. Behind the front stood the main force of the artillery, along with the various pioneer and medical units that were to accompany the assault teams. Behind these were the second wave units awaiting their turn to go into action in ruined villages and farms and, behind, these a massive 77 reserve divisions stood in readiness.
On the British side of the wire life went on pretty much the same as usual depending on how seriously local commanders viewed the situation. A number of patrols were, however, sent out find if anything was happening. Some came back to report having not seen or heard anything untoward, whilst others told of finding gaps in the wire and of hearing the rumble of moving vehicles and guns. Nevertheless, 2 miles to the north of St Quentin, a patrol from the Royal Warwick’s was sent out on reconnaissance into the German trenches and had returned with a machine gun and around 13 men from various German units. These men freely told the assembled group of British officers that they were assault troops and were due to take part in a large operation scheduled to begin in a few hours time, and that the artillery bombardment would begin at 0400 hours. The prisoners also pleaded to be taken to the rear of the British lines with all speed– please!
Despite the warnings the British did not order ‘Man Battle Stations’, and did little apart from opening a desultory artillery fire on the German lines. Apart from the occasional explosion of a British artillery shell the night remained quiet. There had been, of course, not a sound from the German side of the wire and many survivors would later recall the lack of flares throughout the night, which the Germans usually made much use of. However, despite no outward signs of trouble brewing, most of the British troops spent an uneasy night waiting for whatever the morrow might bring.
A dense fog developed soon after midnight of 20/21 March compounding the eeriness of the night. At 3.30 am on Thursday, 21 March 1918, British artillery opened fire on likely enemy troop concentration areas. However, 60 minutes later, soon after 4.30 am, the roar of the British guns was engulfed by the tumultuous thunder of the largest bombardment of the war, as over 6,000 enemy artillery pieces began to saturate the fronts of Third and Fifth Armies with gas and high explosives.
‘So intense was the bombardment that the earth around us trembled. It was a dark night, but the tongues of flame from the guns – 2,500 British guns replied to the German bombardment – lit up the night sky to daylight brightness. Mixed up with the high explosive shells crashing on our trenches were the less noisy but deadly gas shells. Trenches collapsed, infantry in front line positions, groping about in their gas masks, were stunned by the sudden terrific onslaught … Machine gun posts were blown sky-high – along with human limbs. Men were coughing and vomiting from the effects of gas, and men were blinded…’ 
The enemy bombardment was scheduled to last for 5 terrible hours, and designed, by its sheer weight and ferocity, to stun the defenders, destroy communications and silence artillery. The first 2 hours of the German artillery fire had concentrated mainly on the saturation of the British artillery positions in the ‘Battle Zone’ with gas. This was followed by a 3 hour bombardment with a mixture of gas and high explosives on the positions in the Forward and Battle Zones, focussing on the infantry stationed in the front positions. The situation in these positions at the end of the bombardment was one of total chaos. Underground cables were severed causing a loss of communications between the front and the various divisional headquarters, and also between the front and the artillery positions. This poor state of affairs was exacerbated by the fog, which prevented any visual communication by SOS flare, and also by air observation.
At Zero Hour (9.40 am) the bombardment was replaced by a ‘creeping barrage’, which heralded the advance of the infantry, spearheaded by stormtroopers. Equipped with sub-machine guns and flamethrowers, the storm troopers found the front line garrison virtually annihilated. The survivors, blinded by the fog and forced to wear gas masks for hours on end, first became aware of the infantry assault at the point where their positions were engulfed by the leading waves of what many would later call the ‘grey avalanche’: hordes of field grey-clad German infantry. Despite the apparent hopelessness of trying to hold out in the face of such overwhelming odds some units in the Forward Zone tried to make a stand but these were soon crushed and few men made it back into the Battle Zone.
Amongst the units which took part in that dreadful first day of the onslaught of the German Spring Offensive was 1st Battalion, the Prince of Wales’s Own (West Yorkshire Regiment). Attached to Fourth Corps of Sir Julian Byng’s Third Army, the battalion belonged to 18 Brigade of 6th Division which held over 4,000 yards of the front line near the village of Morchies.
Positioned close to the extreme left flank of the German 18th Army’s assault, the battalion, along with the remainder of 18 Brigade (2nd Durham Light Infantry and 11th Essex Regiment) nonetheless put up a stiff defence of the 2,000 yard perimeter until the late afternoon of the 21st, by which time the Brigade had virtually ceased to exist. Almost out of bombs and ammunitio,n the surviving members of the Brigade was ordered to make a fighting retreat to Fourth Corps’ ‘Defence Line’, which was to the east of Morchies. Scant records were – understandably – made at battalion level that day and, as a consequence, very little is known of what actually happened to the 1st West Yorkshires during that momentous day.
However, it is known that at around 10 am that day, the battalion’s Commanding Officer (Lieutenant Colonel A M Boyall) had reported that the enemy was advancing towards his positions in ‘masses’, and by midday he sent another more urgent message asking for more small arms ammunition. Unknown to him, by this time the enemy had almost surrounded 18 Brigade’s position and the ammunition was never sent. At 3 pm Boyall again telephoned stating this time, ‘… if no reinforcements were forthcoming the remains of the Brigade would fight it out to the last in the reserve line, for the situation was hopeless and retirement impossible …’ 
For 3 more desperate hours the tattered brigade held out against overwhelming odds. By 6.50 pm all of the formation’s bombs and most of the ammunition was used up; at this point Boyall ordered all the surviving men to make a fighting retreat to the Corps Reserve Line which was situated to the east of Morchies. Thankfully shrouded in a thick fog, the soldiers began their fight through the enemy’s line, stating afterwards that ‘… directly the withdrawal began the enemy, in great numbers, followed in rear, while violent machine gun fire from both flanks, swept the ground over which the intrepid troops of 18 Brigade were retiring, thus giving no chance for an organised retirement …’ 
In other words, a rout had taken place, and it became a case of every man for himself as the handful of survivors fought their way towards the flimsy British line of resistance. By 7.30 pm during the evening of 21 March the Brigade’s survivors made it to the Corps Line where they were ‘very badly handled’ by enemy fire until the evening of 22 March when the gallant band, numbering around 50 men by this time, were finally driven out of their positions to retreat through Morchies to a line which was tenuously held behind the village.
During the evening of 22/23 March the remnants of 18 Brigade were relieved in the line, the men marching back to the relative safety of Achiet le Petit, where the pitiful remains of the once proud battalion assembled for the customary post battle calling of the roll. This revealed that of the 30 officers and 639 men of the 2nd DLI who went into action a couple of days earlier, only 2 officers and 22 other ranks answered to their names being called. The 11th Essex consisted of 5 officers and 70 other ranks out of 25 officers and 501 men. The situation was little different with 1st West Yorkshire which had gone into battle on the morning of 21 March with a complement of 24 officers and 639 other ranks. By the end only 1 officer and 18 other ranks remained.
531 officers and men of 1st Battalion The West Yorkshire Regiment, including Lt Col Boyall, were reported as missing in action. Amongst them was 30-year-old 28092 Private Herbert Stonehouse.
Born in Scarborough on 6 June 1888, at 74 Trafalgar Street West (known locally as ‘Penny Black Lane’), Herbert was the eldest son of Sarah and Johnson Stonehouse, a ‘general labourer’, who was still living in Trafalgar Street West during 1918. 
A pupil of the Central Board School between 1892 and 1902, Herbert left the school at the customary age of 13 to become an errand boy in the Gladstone Road shop of local ‘grocer, provision dealer and Italian warehouseman’ William Vasey and remained in his employ until 1910 when Herbert began work in the Westborough shop of ‘family grocer, tea dealer, and provision dealer’, John Rowntree & Sons. However, by the outbreak of war, Stonehouse was employed in the grocery trade in the City of York, where he enlisted into the West Yorkshire Regiment during September 1915.
Initially stationed at York’s Fulford Barracks with the regiment’s 13th (Reserve) Battalion, Stonehouse remained in England until December 1916. During this time he was married by special licence on 27 June 1916 at Scarborough’s Bar Church to Clara, the 25-year-old eldest daughter of Elizabeth and Frederick William Nundy, who were residing at the time at 23 Roseberry Avenue.
During late December Stonehouse was placed amongst a draft of replacements for battle casualties sustained by the 16 battalions of the West Yorkshire Regiment which were serving in France and Belgium at that time, and he eventually joined 1st Battalion (one of two pre-war regular army formation belonging to the West Yorkshire Regiment) in Northern France, near to the town of Béthune, where the battalion manned the front-line trenches in the ‘relatively quiet’ Cambrin Sector of the Western Front.
Stationed at Lichfield at the outbreak of war, the 1st West Yorkshire’s landed at St Nazaire on 10 September 1914 with the 6th (Regular Army) Division in time to assist the hard pressed British Expeditionary Force in the fierce fighting on the Aisne. Soon moved up to the Ypres Sector, the battalion took part in many of the operations on the Western Front subsequently, including the recently shut down (November) Somme Offensive of 1916, where 1st West York’s had been involved in the Battles of Flers/Courcelette (15 – 22 September), Morval (25 – 28 September], and Transloy Ridges (1 – 18 October), where on 12 October the battalion sustained heavy casualties in a futile attack on 2 German-held positions known as ‘Misty’ and ‘Cloudy’ Trenches. This resulted in the sorely depleted battalion being forced to move from the Somme to the relative quietness of the Béthune area to recuperate.
The next 6 months of Herbert Stonehouse’s life were spent in the positions near Cambrin. Although described as a ‘comparatively quiet part of the line’, life there for Private Stonehouse and his comrades was far from tranquil. The battalion’s historian describes it as follows:
‘Months of trench warfare, at times of a very strenuous nature, now lay before the West Yorkshiremen, and from the Battalion Diaries it is evident that in 1917, despite the fact that the enemy was kept busy in other sectors of the line along the British front, he was nonetheless aggressive, and raids and counter-raids were frequent, whilst constant vigilance was necessary; bomb actions, heavy artillery bombardments, sniping and machine gunning took place at all times, while the repair of trenches and improvements of the defences occupied the troops during the brief periods when they were not otherwise engaged.’ 
Spared from the bloodbaths of the Arras Offensive (March – May 1917) and the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) (July – November 1917), the 1st West Yorkshire’s next large-scale operation was the Cambrai ‘affair’ which began on 20 November 1917. During the night of 19/20 of November, 18 Brigade assembled to the south-west of the village of Beaucamp from where at Zero Hour the following day the formation launched its attack on the Brigade’s allotted objectives, namely: the capture of the ‘Hindenburg Front line system’; secondly, the ‘Blue Line’ (a line running between the Hindenburg Main and Support Lines), including the village of Ribecourt; and, thirdly, the Hindenburg Support Line.
The Brigade’s operation was very successful, all units taking their objectives for very little loss, with the 1st West Yorkshire’s by the end of the day being ensconced in positions on ‘Premy Chapel Ridge’ for the loss of just 1 man killed [57928 Private Henry Govens] and 2 officers and 11 men wounded. As a whole, the 1st West Yorkshire’s played no further part in the Cambrai Offensive, the unit remaining in their positions on the ridge above Premy Chapel until the evening of 24 November, when Stonehouse and the remainder of the battalion moved back to billets at Ribecourt.
The men of the 1st West Yorkshire’s spent the winter of 1917 either digging new trenches or repairing old ones. On 12 December the men of the battalion boarded buses, which transported them to billets at Blaireville. 3 days were spent in relative comfort there; however, on 16 December the battalion took over a sector of the front line opposite the German-held village of Riencourt, where the men had been set to work digging a new trench system.
Christmas was spent in Blaireville, where the unit received Christmas greetings from the regiment’s Commander in Chief, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales (who was in Italy at the time). Soon afterwards, on 27 December, the battalion moved to the Moeuvres sector where, until 17 January 1918, the men ‘enjoyed a well-earned rest’. This rest period was followed by a spell in the front line at Moeuvres ‘ … where several days of quietude were spent. The enemy appears to have been inactive though both sides were vigilant … ’
The battalion remained in the front line at Moeuvres until 13 March 1918, when the formation moved up into the right sub-sector of the front at Morchies, and where the unit remained in relative peace until the start of the German Offensive 8 days later (during the night of 20 March the Battalion’s War Diarist had recorded ‘ … quiet day and night … ’).
Having already lost a brother to the war, Clara Stonehouse  was no stranger to the shock of hearing that a loved one was missing. Nevertheless, one can barely begin to imagine her reaction on the terrible day in April when she received word that her husband had reportedly been lost in fighting to the south of Pronville, probably on 21 March. The terrible tidings were later included in a lengthy casualty list that appeared in the ‘Scarborough Mercury’ of Friday, 26 April 1918:
‘Official news has been received by his parents, 74, Trafalgar Street West, that Private H. Stonehouse, West Yorks, who is married, has been missing since March 21st. He has been in France for about two years’
No further news of Herbert’s fate was received until the beginning of July when Clara Stonehouse received information from the War Office telling her that her husband had been killed in action on Thursday, 21 March. Once again the news was featured in the ‘Scarborough Mercury’ (Friday, 5 July 1918).
‘Missing man now reported killed’.
‘Mrs. Stonehouse, of 25 Roseberry Avenue, has received official news that her husband Private H. Stonehouse, of the West Yorkshire Regiment, who was reported missing on the 21st of March, is now reported to have been killed on that date. He has been in France for two years and was over on leave in February. He joined from York, where he was in the employ of a firm of grocers. Previous to which he was employed at Messrs. Rowntrees, grocers, Scarborough’…
Despite numerous post war searches of the Arras battlefield undertaken by the then Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission, no remains of a soldier, identifiable as those of Herbert Stonehouse, have ever been found. To the present day still ‘missing in action’, Herbert’s name can be found on Panel 5 of the Arras Memorial. Located in the Faubourg-d’Amiens Cemetery in the western part of the city of Arras, the Memorial commemorates the names of almost 35,000 British, New Zealand, and South African servicemen who, like Private Stonehouse, lost their lives in the Arras Sector between Spring 1916 and 7 August 1918 (excluding casualties of the Battle of Cambrai) and for whom there exists no known grave.
A year after the death of her husband Clara Stonehouse placed an epitaph in the ‘In Memoriam’ section of the ‘Scarborough Mercury’ of Friday, 21 March 1919;
‘In loving memory of Private H. Stonehouse, West Yorkshire Regiment, the beloved husband of Clara Stonehouse, 25 Roseberry Avenue, who fell in action March 21st 1918. People think that that we forgot them when they see us smile. But they little know the sorrow the smile hides all the while. —From his loving wife’…
As well as the Oliver’s Mount Memorial, in Scarborough Herbert’s name is commemorated on a gravestone in the town’s Manor Road Cemetery (Section L, Row 19, Grave 28), which also commemorates the name of his younger brother, Francis Richard Stonehouse. Born in Scarborough during 1893, Frank also served during the war, as a Private (Regimental Number 205713) in the Labour Corps. Gassed during 1917 he died prematurely at the age of 31, from the effects of mustard gas, at the family’s home at 74 Trafalgar Street West on Monday, 11 August 1924 (interred on 14 August).
Herbert’s father, Johnson Stonehouse passed away (also at 74 Trafalgar Street West) aged 78, on Sunday, 5 September 1937 (interred on 8 September); his mother, Sarah Stonehouse, also died in the house in Trafalgar Street West on Thursday, 26 April 1945 (interred 30 April), at the age of 82. Both of their names are also featured on the gravestone.
Despite extensive research the fate of Clara Stonehouse is not known. Whether she remarried or moved away from the town is uncertain, as her name does not appear in any of Scarborough’s post-war electoral rolls. One can only hope that she found happiness at some stage in her later life.
 Machine Gunner 1914-18; C E Crutchley (editor) Bailey Bros & Swinfen; Folkestone; 1975.
 The West Yorkshire Regiment in the Great War 1914-18; Volume 2 1917-18; Everard Wyrall; The Bodley Head Ltd. London.
 Johnson Stonehouse and Sarah Horner married at St Mary’s Parish Church on 17 April 1886. At the time of the 1901 Census they lived in Scarborough at 74 Trafalgar Street West, the family by this time consisting of Johnson, aged 40, employed as a ‘general labourer’ born Scarborough, Sarah, aged 38, born Scalby, Annie E, daughter (14), Herbert, son (12), Francis R son (7); all the children were born in Scarborough. (At the time the family was recorded as living with Johnson’s father, Samuel Stonehouse, a widower aged 74, occupation also listed as ‘general labourer’.)
 Clara’s 19-year-old brother, 241315 Private Harold William Nundy, was also killed in action.