William Charles Pretty
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William Charles PRETTY (Serjeant / Sergeant)
11803, 3rd Battalion, Grenadier Guards
1914-15 Star and Victory Medal (his British War Medal is missing)
William Charles Pretty was born in Sprowston, Norfolk circa 1887. In 1891 the four year old William was living with his family in The Street, Hardley, Norfolk. His father, Charles, was a market gardener, his mother was Elizabeth, and he had two elder sisters. By 1901 the family had moved to Manor Road, Chatham, Kent. The fourteen year old William was a parcel porter, his father was a groom/gardener; an addition to the family was a five year old brother.
Joining the Army
William attested into the Grenadier Guards on 17th November 1904 in Canterbury, Kent, at the age of 18 years 9 months, and was given the army number 11803, his occupation was a gardener. He joined the Grenadier Guards “proper” in London on the following day. His description was:- height 5 feet 10 inches, weight 132 lbs, chest 36 inches (with 2 inches of expansion), complexion fresh, eyes brown and chestnut hair. His religion was Church of England. After six months service his height was 5 feet 11 ½ inches, weight 137 lbs, chest 34 ½ inches (with 3 ½ inches of expansion).
William’s next of kin was given as his parents and brother, Fred, of Ryecroft, Down Park, Herne Bay, Kent. Also his two sisters, who now lived away from the family home.
After a period of basic training Pretty served with the 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards. He was granted his first good conduct badge on 17th July 1906. He transferred to Section A of the Army Reserve on 17th July 1907, after three years of colour service, serving entirely in Britain. Pretty reverted to Section B of the Army Reserve on 17th July 1908.
Marriage and Children
William Pretty married Florence Louisa Amos on 1st August 1909 in the Parish Church in the village of Hoath in Kent (pictured below - click to enlarge). There son, Charles Edward Amos Pretty, was born on 2nd June 1910 in Sturry, Kent (he died aged 69 on 23rd January 1979 in Brompton Hospital, Farnbough).
The 1911 census lists William, his wife, son, and his wife’s 14 year old sister, Elisa Amos, living at Goswell Cottage in Sturry. William’s occupation was a postman. There daughter, Kathleen Elsie Pretty, was born in the village of Blean, Kent on 18th March 1915.
The Outbreak of War & Landing in France
With the outbreak of The Great War, Pretty was mobilised at London on 5th August 1914, and placed with his old Battalion, the 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards. He was appointed a paid Lance Corporal on 15th July 1915.
Lance Corporal Pretty was sent to France with the rest of the 3rd Battalion on 26th July 1915, crossing from Southampton to Havre in the steamboat Queen Alexandra. On the same day he was promoted to Corporal.
The Battalion proceeded by train to Wizernes, from where it marched into billets at Esquerdes. On 18th August the Battalion took part in the review held on the aviation ground at St Omer, to mark the formation of The Guards Division. The battalions of the Division were inspected by the French War Minister, Lord Kitchener and Sir John French.
The 3rd Battalion were part of the 2nd Guards Brigade, which was complete on 23rd August, together with the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards, 1st Battalion Scots Guards and the 2nd Battalion Irish Guards.
During the two months spent at Esquerdes the Battalion was busy engaged in training. Officers and NCOs went through several courses, and were initiated into the mysteries of bombing and the mechanism of the new Lewis gun.
In September the British and French agreed to make a determined attack on the strong German line. The plan was to launch a huge artillery bombardment, and then to attack with twelve infantry divisions. The British were to attack between La Bassee Canal and Lens. The attack was to begin at 6.30am on 25th September 1915.
The Battle of Loos
The 2nd Guards Brigade marched from Esquerses and reached Vermelles at about 7pm on Saturday 25th September, having marched via Ligny-les-Aire, Burbure, and Houchin. The night of the 25th was spent by the 3rd Battalion Grenadiers in the old British front trench north-west of Loos, some of the men were in the trench, and some had to lie outside.
At 3.30 on the morning of the 26th the 3rd Battalion started off in the direction of Loos, when they came down the hill towards Loos shrapnel shells burst around them. When at the bottom of the hill they relieved the Scots Guards, into what had been the German third-line trenches, these were generally in a very good state. The men were ordered to dig communication trenches and repair the parapet; this was done in pouring rain with an icy cold wind. That night was therefore spent in great discomfort.
On the morning of 27th September this was the position:- the 3rd Battalion were still in the line of trenches in front of Le Rutoire Farm, with its right on the Loos Redoubt. In front of it was the 1st Battalion Scots Guards, with its right on the village of Loos. The 2nd Battalion Irish Guards was on the left of the Scots Guards, with the 1st Battalion Coldstream in support. At 2pm the Brigade Commander collected the commanding officers near the Loos Redoubt, and informed them that an attack was to made that evening on Chalk Pit Wood by the 2nd Battalion Irish Guards, supported by the 1st Battalion Coldstream, and on Puits 14 (a large colliery) by the 1st Battalion Scots Guards, supported by the 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards. A heavy bombardment was to start at 3pm. The Irish Guards were to advance at 4pm, but the Scots Guards were to wait until the wood was captured before they began their assault on Puits 14. The enemy was known to be strongly entrenched along Hill 70 to Puits 14.
Instructions were given for the 3rd Battalion Grenadiers to follow the 1st Battalion Scots Guards and occupy its trench as soon as it was quitted. After initial reconnaissance a way down a maze of communication trenches was found, and the Battalion, a company at a time, began to file down towards the line held by the Scots Guards. The ground was being shelled by the Germans, but by 4pm the Grenadiers reached the trench from which the Scots Guards were to advance. This trench had become much broken down during the last days’ fighting, and there were many wounded lying about, some of whom had been there for two days.
When the Commanding Officer arrived he found that the Scots Guards had already started their attack, and were well away over the open, making for Puits 14. He therefore ordered No 1 and No 2 Companies, as they emerged from the communication trenches, to follow on at once in support of the Scots Guards. No 3 and No 4 Companies were kept in reserve under immediate orders of the Brigade Commander, who had established his headquarters in that trench.
The Irish and Coldstream Guards had succeeded in gaining Chalk pit Wood, but the Scots Guards had a more difficult task with Puits 14. After they had passed the Hulluch - Loos road they were not only shelled, but came into heavy machine gun fire from Hill 70 and Bois Hugo. The fire came almost entirely from the right flank. No 1 and 2 Companies from the Grenadiers pushed on under terrific shell fire, and came up with the Scots Guards just outside Puits 14, stubbornly defended by the Germans. Regardless of the machine guns which were mowing down the men, the Scots Guards and two companies of the Grenadiers pressed on, and endeavoured to reach Puits 14, but very few of the Scots Guards and not more than a dozen Grenadiers, under Lieutenant Ritchie, actually got into the Puits, where they threw bombs into the houses occupied the enemy.
The Germans had not occupied this position for a year without thinking of every possible event, and machine guns were soon turned on the attackers from every direction. Finding it impossible to retain possession of the Puits, the Scots Guards retired with the two companies of Grenadiers to just in front of Chalk Pit Wood, making it equally impossible for the enemy to hold his position. Lieutenant Ritchie and Second Lieutenant Crabbe, not knowing of this retirement, remained with six men among the buildings of the Puits, until they found themselves almost surrounded by Germans who had come from Bois Hugo. At first they tried to drive the enemy back, but, finding themselves outnumbered and in danger of being captured, they decided to retire. The majority of the party got back to Chalk Pit Wood, but Second Lieutenant Crabbe was last seen standing on a wall throwing bombs at the enemy when he was killed. Lieutenant Ritchie, finding himself alone and wounded, walked slowly back to Chalk Pit Wood, where he collected all the men he could, and told them to dig themselves in for the night. He then reported the result of the attack to Brigadier General Ponsonby, the Brigade Commander.
Meanwhile the Irish and Coldstream Guards on the left had established themselves in the Chalk Pit and adjoining wood, where they dug themselves in.
When darkness fell No 4 Company were ordered to go forward and support the Scots Guards. They started off, but were held up by machine gun fire, and it was two hours before it was able to reach the other two companies, who had suffered very much during the attack. The 3rd Battalion Grenadiers was now prolonging the line of the Scots Guards to the right, and holding from the south west corner of Chalk Pit Wood to the corner of Loos, facing Puits 14.
The positions remained unchanged during the night and the following morning, the 28th, with shelling at intervals by the enemy, who knew the range of the trench precisely. In the afternoon the 1st Battalion Coldstream made a very gallant attempt to take Puits 14 from the Chalk Pit, but the attack failed. During the night two platoons from No 3 Company were sent to make a line across the Loos - Hulluch road facing north, and to establish communication with the 1st Battalion Coldstream towards the Chalk Pit. On the morning of the 29th a raid was made by the bombers of the 3rd Battalion Grenadiers on the Puits buildings, to try and weaken the enemy.
Until the night of the 30th the Battalion remained in the same trenches. The remnant of No 2 Company was moved to the left, and was used, together with No 3 Company, to continue the line facing north, thus completing the junction between the 2nd and 3rd Guards Brigades.
The 2nd Guards Brigade was relieved on the night of 30th September, the Berkshire Regiment relieving the Grenadiers. The relief was finished at 2am, when the 3rd Battalion marched slowly back through Noyelles and Sally-la-Bourse to Verquigneul, which was reached about 6am. The total casualties for th battalion in the three days of fighting amounted to 229.
The Battalion remained in billets until 4th October, when it took over from the 5th Liverpool Regiment a line of trenches resting on the Hohenzollern Redoubt, and remained until the 10th. The Germans were now in possession of the Hohenzollern Redoubt, and the position of the Grenadiers was therefore anything but pleasant. On the 8th the enemy made a determined attack on this line, surprising the Battalion’s bombers, killing most of them. The Battalion’s bombs were damp and refused to detonate. A Grenadier machine gun barred the way to the Germans. Bombs and shells rained down on the position of the machine gun, a lieutenant was killed manning it. He was replaced by three sergeants in succession who met the same fate. The gun was soon afterwards put out of action.
The situation looked very bad. The Germans were bombing down the trench, and No 2 and No 3 Companies retired before the advancing Germans. The 3rd Battalion Coldstream on the right grasped how serious the situation had become, and sent off some bombers who managed to stop the rush. The Germans were eventually forced to retire, loosing many men. The total casualties in the 3rd Battalion was 137 of all ranks, including two officers killed.
Rest and Return to the Lines
On 10th October the Battalion retired into billets at Vermelles, and on the 12th to Vaudricourt, where it remained in reserve until the 14th.
The Battalion returned to the line on the 15th, and at once set to work improving the trenches, under continual bombing and shelling. On the 17th the shelling became very accurate, and the Battalion had 11 killed and 32 wounded.
During the time in the trenches the casualties had been constant and often very heavy: the Battalion lost all four Company Sergeant majors, one killed and three wounded. On the 21st the Battalion Second in Command was killed by a sniper.
The total killed and wounded since the Battalion arrived at Loos was 19 officers and 500 other ranks.
Bidding Goodbye to Loos
On 25th October the Battalion left the front line and marched to Bethune, where it entrained for Lillers, and on arrival went into billets at Norrent Fontes.
Corporal Pretty was appointed a Lance Sergeant on 29th October 1915, appearing to come through the Battle of Loos unscathed, and he probably performed well in order to be appointed a lance sergeant.
On 8th November the Battalion marched twenty six kilometres and went into billets in La Gorgue until 14th November. On the 14th the Battalion marched to trenches just north of Neuve Chapelle, these were very poor trenches, and then men were knee deep in water. Two days in the trenches and two days out was the routine until the 20th, when the whole Brigade moved back to billets at La Gorgue, and remained there until the end of the month.
In December the Battalion occupied the trenches from Sion Post Lane to Moated Grange North, and continued alternately two days in the trenches and two days out. The trenches were fairly quiet, but from the 24th the Germans guns seemed to get more accurate. The Battalion spent Christmas Day in the trenches, and plum pudding and a pint of beer was given to each man. On the 26th they left the trenches and marched to Merville.
On 1st January 1916 the Battalion marched from Merville to Laventie, and went into billets. On the 3rd it took over the left sector from the 1st Battalion Scots Guards. Two days in the trenches and two days out was the routine for the next fortnight, the German artillery was very active. On the 14th the Battalion marched back to La Gorgue, where they remained billeted for tens days, after which they returned to Laventie.
On 1st February the Battalion proceeded to Merville, where it remained until the 7th, then they marched to Riez Bailleul. The usual routine of two days in the trenches followed by two day out was observed until the 16th, when the Battalion was relieved by the 9th Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers, and they marched back to La Gorgue. On the 19th the Battalion marched to Eecke, proceeding to Wormhoudt on the following day, where it remained for two days, and then marched to Poperinghe.
On the 5th March the Battalion proceeded to Calais, and marched to Camp Beaumarais, where it remained until the 18th. Here an accident occurred during bombing practice with No 4 Company, a bomb prematurely exploded on leaving the thrower’s hand, five men were killed and 16 wounded. On leaving Calais , the Battalion went by train to Cassel, where it detrained and marched to Oudezeele.
The Ypres Salient
On 26th March the Battalion reached the Ypres salient, and went into support trenches. They were at Ypres for sixteen days, either in the front line, in support or reserve. There was the ever present danger from gas, enemy aircraft and shelling, and there were inevitable casualties. On 11th April the Battalion moved to Poperinghe, then back to Ypres on the 18th, where a similar routine followed. A return to Poperinghe followed on the 5th May. They returned to Ypres a week later, and were initially employed on nightly fatigues, followed by a return to the trenches on 16th May, and a return to Poperinghe on 21st May. Here they remained, at Camp N, until the end of the month.
On 1st June the 2nd Guards Brigade proceeded to Volckerinchove. Here a new method of attack was practiced, with full scale representations of German trenches. On 14th June the 3rd Battalion moved to Vlamertinghe by lorries to relieve the 9th Canadian Battalion, which had suffered heavy losses. They remained there for three days, with one company at Ypres and three companies at the west end of Zillebeke Lake. On the night of the 18th it took over from the 1st Battalion Scots Guards the front trenches in Sanctuary Wood. Reconnaissance proved that the Germans had withdrawn from their original front line, leaving this old British line full of dead, equipment and ammunition. Over 350 rifles and a large quantity of ammunition was collected. On the 19th and 20th the Battalion suffered heavy shelling. After a week’s rest in Camp D, the Battalion took over the left reserve sub-sector, at the junction of the British and French armies on the Yser Canal, where it remained for three days, and on the night of the 30th it went up again into the front line.
During the three days the Battalion was in the trenches there was a great deal of activity by artillery on both sides. Preparation was being made for the Welsh Guards to attack Morteloje Estaminet. On 3rd July the Battalion withdrew into support by the canal bank, and returned again to the front line on the 8th. On the 12th the Battalion retired to the canal bank, and three days later proceeded to Camp E, where it remained for ten days. On the 25th it proceeded to Volckerinchove, and left the Ypres area. On the 31st it moved down to Le Souich, where it was employed for a week in digging for another Division.
On 13th August the Battalion went up into the trenches in front of Bertrancourt, and after a few days went into camp at Sailly-au-Bois. When this camp was shelled heavily they had to be placed in artillery formation in fields to the rear. The remainder of the month was spent in training, during which the Battalion was camped at Bus-les-Artois, Amplier Naours, and finally Morlancourt.
It was at last understood, in the Summer of 1916, that spasmodic attacks on the Germans had little long term effect. The Battle of The Somme was now devised, a huge simultaneous assault by all of the Allies.
On 9th September the 3rd Battalion left Morlancourt and moved into a camp at Happy Valley, and on the 12th it marched to Carnoy. On the night of the 12th the 2nd Guards Brigade was ordered to relieve the right sub section of the 3rd Guards Brigade. In the front line was placed the 2nd Battalion Irish Guards, with the 1st Battalion Scots Guards in support, while the two battalions which were eventually to undertake the attack, the 3rd Battalion Grenadiers and the 1st Battalion Coldstream, remained in reserve. Orders were given for the 2nd Battalion Irish guards to clear away isolated posts in front, where it was reported that some Germans were lurking, and this was successfully done; but an attack that was afterwards organised with the 71st and 16th Infantry Brigades was not quite so successful.
Up to this point the 3rd Battalion Grenadiers had stayed in reserve, at 9pm on 14th September the Battalion marched off by companies to take up its position. The 2nd Guards Brigade was allotted a front of 500 yards, north-east of Ginchy, and the attack was to be carried out by the 3rd Battalion Grenadiers on the right with the 1st Battalion Scots Guards in support, and the 1st Battalion Coldstream on the left with the 2nd Battalion Irish Guards in support. The whole Brigade assembled east of Ginchy, to avoid a heavy barrage that the Germans usually put in the desired assembly area.
The 3rd Battalion Grenadiers was formed up in four waves, all the men being in single rank, and companies in columns of half companies, with fifty yards distance between platoons.
At 4am on 15th September the Battalion was in position and everything was ready. Sandwiches and an issue of rum were served out to the men, who then tried to snatch a little sleep. At 6am exactly the British heavy guns started, and fired about forty shells a piece in quick succession. This immediately bought on a German barrage in exactly the place where expected, the troops having changed position were not shelled. Orders were passed down at 6.15am to fix bayonets and get ready, and five minutes later the attack started.
The first objective, or Green line, lay over the ridge 600 yards away, direction became a matter of the greatest difficulty, as there were no landmarks to go by. Soon after it started off, under a creeping barrage, the 3rd Battalion came on unexpected intermediate lines. These were no more than connected shell holes, but had served to shelter a number of Germans, who fought with the utmost bravery. All were shot or bayoneted, the delay was slight, but it had the effect of breaking the regularity of the formation and telescoping up the men in the rear.
While these intermediate lines were being cleared, an extremely heavy machine gun fire was opened from the right flank, where the Sixth Division had been held up from the start. The tanks which were to have flattened the wire and help the advance never appeared, so as soon as the 2nd Guards Brigade crossed over the Ginchy ridge it was committed to hard and continuous fighting in a position of much difficulty.
By now the Brigade had got very much mixed up, though still all together, and they continued the advance as a brigade rather than as four battalions. As a result of the quick advance the right flank of the Brigade was completely exposed, a company was thrown out as a defensive flank within 200 yards of the enemy’s flanking trench, to keep down the fire, while the rest of the 3rd Battalion Grenadiers pressed on to the main assault.
In spite of the casualties the 3rd Battalion Grenadiers, with the 1st Battalion Scots Guards, continued to push on till it reached the first objective. The Germans, who had fought with such tenacity in the intermediate lines, offered comparatively little resistance, and surrendered in large numbers. It was later discovered that this line was not entirely secure, bombing parties were organised and the enemy held trenches were cleared. There was much confusion amongst the Guards Division as a whole, 100 men of the 3rd Battalion Grenadiers were pushed up to fill the intermediate space, and keep touch with the 1st Battalion Coldstream, these 100 men became detached from the rest of the 3rd Battalion.
As soon as the whole of the first objective was in British hands the advance towards the second objective at once took place. On the extreme right no ground could be gained, as the Sixth Division had failed to take the Quadrilateral, but father towards the centre the 3rd Battalion Grenadiers reached a position which was assumed to be the second objective, but was in fact half way between the first and second objective. Many officers and men were killed during this second advance.
Positions were held while about twenty men of the Brigade pushed on to reconnoitre Lesboeufs , followed later by men of the 3rd Battalion Grenadiers who were near, making a total of 120 of various battalions. This party pushed on for 800 yards, and met with no opposition. At this stage they found themselves in a German trench. They could have pushed on towards Lesboeufs, but owing to their small number they held on and sent back for reinforcements. These reinforcements had to be sent before the Germans returned, in the event the reinforcements never arrived. Meanwhile finding that the British advance had spent itself, the Germans began returning in small bodies, and soon after 5pm a whole battalion was seen advancing. The position of this small party was now becoming serious. Gradually the Germans were moving round each flank, and even getting to their rear.
At 6pm they were still hanging on doggedly, being fired at from all sides, when suddenly a company of the enemy, 250 strong who were hiding in crops in front, rushed a trench occupied by less than 100 British troops. The British put up a good fight, but were eventually forced to retire. Captain Lyttelton, the 3rd Battalion Grenadier’s Adjutant, finding himself surrounded, threw his empty revolver at the Germans; thinking it was a Mills bomb, they ducked, and this gave him time to scramble out of the trench and escape. The party escaped with relatively few casualties.
Germans were now seen to be massing between Morval and Lesboeufs, and the 4th Battalion Grenadiers were ordered to reinforce the right flank of the 2nd Guards Brigade. The position of the Guards Division, however, made it impossible to throw forward all of the reserve battalions.
For all of the night, the right flank of the 2nd Guards Brigade was bombed. The next day, 16th September, the 2nd Guards Brigade was relieved by the 61st infantry Brigade, who continued the attack, and secured the next objective.
The 3rd Battalion casualties were very high. Out of 22 officers who went into action 17 were killed or wounded, amongst the ranks 395 were killed and wounded.
Finally off the Line
On 20th September the 3rd Battalion moved into bivouacs at Carnoy, where it remained until the second attack of the Guards Division on the 25th. The 2nd Guards Brigade was then, however, in reserve, and, owing to the complete success of the attack, its services were not required. The 3rd Battalion Grenadiers was in Corps Reserve during this attack, but returned to the Brigade in the evening.
After the Battle of the Somme the 3rd Battalion moved from Garnoy to Heucourt by train, and remained there till the end of October. Training was carried out in accordance with the new training schemes, and there were field days in which Advanced-guards, Flank-guards, and tactical schemes were practised. The Battalion was away from the front line throughout November at Meaulte and then Mansell Camp near Carnoy.
Back to Blighty for treatment
Lance Sergeant Pretty returned to Britain on 7th November 1916, suffering from P.U.O. Pyrexia [fever] of Unknown Origin - Trench fever and pains in his legs, and was admitted to Southport Infirmary, Liverpool on 7th November and discharged on 9th December. He was appointed an Acting Sergeant on 23rd January 1917. Pretty returned to France on 9th June 1917 when he reverted to a Lance Sergeant. He rejoined the 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards.
Return to France
The 3rd Battalion had spent the last two months away from the front line; with May up until mid June 1917 being spent in training at Clery, Billon, Ville and Wardrecques. On 17th June the Battalion relieved the 1st Battalion Scots Guards in the support line. The enemy shelling increased in intensity each day, and there were quite a number of casualties. On the 22nd the Battalion was relieved, and returned to Roussell Farm, where it remained until the end of the month. They spent another two days in the trenches on the 26th, and came in for a great deal of shelling.
On 1st July the 3rd Battalion went to Wylderd, and on the following day moved on to Herzeele. Here they rehearsed and trained for the next major attack, which was to be an attack in the Boesinghe Sector, and the crossing of the Yser Canal, in conjunction with the French Army. On the 13th they moved to the Forest Area and were bivouacked in two fields. Enemy aircraft were busy overhead, and there was much shelling.
Back at the Front
On 21st July the Battalion took over the right Brigade Sector near Boesinghe. For five days they remained in these trenches, suffering much shell fire. During these five days the casualties amongst the ranks were:- 27 killed, 11 died of wounds, 45 wounded, 10 gassed and 7 is hospital from concussion. On the night of the 26th the Battalion was relieved by the 3rd Battalion Coldstream Guards, and retired again to the Forest Area to rest before the attack by the Division on the 31st July. On the evening of 30th July the 3rd Battalion left the Forest Area, and moved up with the rest of the 2nd Guards Brigade to an assembly area on the western side of the Yser Canal.
Lance Sergeant Pretty was appointed an Acting Sergeant on 31st July, probably to become a platoon sergeant in the upcoming battle.
Battle of Passchendaele
The east side of the canal had fallen into British hands a few days previously, it was therefore possible to hold that side lightly. On the right of the Guards Division the Thirty-eighth Division had been equally successful, and had established itself on the east bank.
The 1st Battalion Scots Guards and the 2nd Battalion Irish Guards were to be in the front line, and their leading companies were to start from the far side of the Canal, which had fallen into our hands a few days previously. The 3rd Battalion Grenadiers and 1st Battalion Coldstream were in reserve some 400 yards from the Canal. The two leading Battalions were to take the first and second objectives, and the two Battalions in reserve were then to pass through and secure the third objective. The final objective was left to the 1st Guards Brigade, which formed the Divisional Reserve.
The whole Brigade now took up its battle positions: the two leading Battalions each placed two companies, less two platoons, on the farther bank, and left two platoons as moppers-up on the western bank. The German shelling of the Canal never ceased for a moment, and caused a good many casualties. The attack was timed to start at 3.50am on the 31st July, but in order to conform with the creeping barrage the actual advance of the Brigade did not take place until 20 minutes later. The leading Battalions advanced behind the creeping barrage in four waves, with an interval of over 100 yards between each wave. The attack was assisted by a machine gun barrage, which was most effective.
The attack was completely successful, and the first objective was reached was secured at 4.30am, but there were a considerable number of casualties, especially on the right, where the Scots Guards were exposed to enfilade fire. The 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards waited in its trenches until 5am, by which time it was light. The Germans continued to shell the Canal, but mistakenly did not shell the area further back, which would target the reserve Battalions; this was fortunate for the 3rd Battalion Grenadiers and the 1st Battalion Coldstream.
At 5am, the 3rd Battalion started off with No 1 Company on the right, No 2 Company on the left, and No 3 Company in support. No 4 Company was employed in carrying up material to the various objectives, and was directly under the orders of the Brigade. The passage across the Canal was successfully accomplished, though owing to broken bridges there was a certain amount of delay. In some places these bridges, consisting of petrol tins, had been so much damaged that there was practically nothing to walk upon. Having crossed the Canal the Battalion advanced in artillery formation towards Artillery Wood over difficult ground, and arrived at the first objective.
Meanwhile the battalions in front had been pushing on to the second objective. This phase of the attack was more complicated, for the enemy’s machine guns were scattered about in pill boxes, which were difficult to capture, and a great many casualties occurred not only from the machine guns, but also from the German infantry, which was holding positions in the shell holes in front of its trenches.
When the 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards approached the second objective it found that there were hardly any British troops in front of it, as the Scots Guards, having suffered heavy casualties, were mostly employed in dealing with pill boxes on their right. Captain Eaton at once disengaged his No 2 Company, and bought it up on the left of No 1 Company. The enemy’s machine guns at Maison Tambour had been very troublesome, and had caused twenty casualties in No 1 Company on the way up. Leaving Captain Neville’s No 3 Company to deal with this difficulty, Captain Eaton and Lieutenant Fryer (No 1 Company Commander) extended their companies in two waves, and with the help of the Scots Guards, who were now freed from guarding the right flank, rushed on, and seized the second objective. At the same time Captain Neville bought up Lewis guns and rifle grenades, and with the help of hand grenades succeeded in silencing the obstructive enemy post.
Although the second objective had been captured, the situation on the right was unsatisfactory, the Division on the right was not keeping pace, and part of No 1 Company had to face that flank. The position of the Battalion was then passed to the contact aeroplanes by waving large flappers above sheets laid on the ground.
The advance to the third objective was now timed to begin, and this was entrusted to the 3rd Battalion Grenadiers and 1st Battalion Coldstream. As the advance progressed considerable opposition was met with from block-houses on the railway. These block-houses were also holding up the Thirty-eighth Division. Nor was No 2 Company on the left free to advance, they were being held up by several pill-boxes to their front. Captain Eaton began to deal with these methodically, and with the aid of Lewis guns and bombs demolished each in turn. As No 1 Company approached a house which it had surrounded, a large white flag was seen to waved frantically from one of the occupants, and eventually three German officers and fifty men emerged and surrendered.
Captain Neville, No 3 Company, was occupied in dealing with the situation on the right, while No 1 and No 2 Companies continued their advance. Just beyond Wood House, Captain Neville bought up two machine guns and got them into action under cover of the low railway embankment. Lieutenant Dunlop was told to advance with No 9 Platoon (from No 3 Company), and started off most gallantly in the face of withering fire, and was shot dead. Captain Neville at once brought up No 12 Platoon, while Lieutenant Borthwick, with 11 Platoon, guarded the right flank. This enabled No1 and No 2 Companies to push on and secure the third objective.
The Thirty-eighth Division was still being held up by three pill-boxes to the rear of No 3 Company on the other side of the railway line. Neville was determined to clear these with a bombing attack. There was of course considerable danger of being shot by men from the Thirty-eighth Division. The attack was lead by Sergeant Browning and Private Baker, both of whom were wounded, but the attack was a complete success, the enemy being completely dislodged from their position, and loosing 20 killed and 42 captured. The 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards, of the 1st Guards Brigade, then passed through the 3rd Battalion Grenadiers as planned. Captain Neville was just about to take his No 3 Company from the front line into support, with No 1 Company taking their place, when he was shot and wounded. No 4 Company, who had been employed carrying gun shells, wire and water, to the whole Brigade were sent up to relieve the Scots Guards.
The total 3rd Battalion casualties during the attack were 26 killed and 113 wounded amongst the ranks, and 2 officers killed and 4 wounded.
Off the Line
After three days rest in the Forest Area the 3rd Battalion went by train to Elverdinghe, and marched up to the front line there. Whilst the relief was being carried out there was much shelling, resulting in the death of an officer, Second Lieutenant Webster. A week’s rest followed at Herzeele. They then moved into Corps Reserve, and returned to Herzeele on 19th August, and on the 22nd went to De Wippe Camp.
Death in the Trenches in the Broembeek Sector
The 3rd Battalion moved to Eton Camp on 4th September, and suffered forty casualties from bombs dropped from aeroplanes. On the 12th they moved to Rugby Camp, and then took over trenches in the Broembeek sector, and in four days had 6 men killed and 28 wounded through shelling.
Acting Sergeant Pretty is likely to have been one of the 28 men wounded by this shelling. He died of wounds received in action on 8th October 1917 at 26 General Hospital Etaples. His next of kin was notified of his death on 9th October.
He is buried and remembered, with honour, at the Etaples Military Cemetery (above - click to enlarge) along with more than 10,000 other men killed during the Great War. William is also commemorate on the Sturry War Memorial, near Canterbury, Kent (below - click to enlarge).
His widow received a pension of 30 shillings a week for herself and four children. She would also receive her late husband’s war medals, these being the 1914/15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal and also a named bronze memorial plaque and paper scroll.
At some point William's British War Medal has become seperated from the other two medals, most likely scrapped for it's silver content. I'm looking to acquire it though, if it should ever re-surface.
William Charles Pretty - Medal Index Card
William Charles Pretty - Star Medal Roll
William Charles Pretty - BWM and Victory Medal Roll
William Charles Pretty - Grave Registration
William Charles Pretty - Headstone Schedule
William Charles Pretty - Headstone Schedule Part 2
William Charles Pretty - In the Cemetery Register
William Charles Pretty - Birth
William Charles Pretty - On the 1891 Census
William Charles Pretty - On the 1901 Census
William Charles Pretty - Marriage
William Charles Pretty - On the 1911 Census
William Charles Pretty - Soldiers Effects Records
William Charles Pretty - Listing on "Soldiers Died" (PDF)
William Charles Pretty - Memorial Certificate (PDF)
3rd Bn Grenadier Guards - War Diary - Jul 1915 - Aug 1916 (Large PDF)
3rd Bn Grenadier Guards - War Diary - Sep 1916 - 1919 (Large PDF)
William Charles Pretty's Service Records are large-sized duplicate copies from the national archives, and aren't available on this page yet due to the problems with scanning them in.