Arthur Guy Osborn

Captain Arthur Guy Osborn was a member of the 12th Battalion, South Wales Borderers who was killed in La Vacquerie, France on 6th May 1917.

Early Life

Arthur was born 5th November 1884 in Wandsworth,  London. Our earliest record of him and his family is the 1901 Census when they resided in Kinson Lodge, Uppleby Road, Branksome, East Dorset.  Head of house was Samuel aged 46 and a market gardener, his wife Georgina 41, three children the eldest of whom was Arthur then aged 16, his brother Charles, 12 and sister Dorothy 9.  Samuel’s younger brother Alfred and mother-in-law Caroline were living in the same house. Uppleby Road still exists today, although Kinson Lodge sadly does not; it is a pleasant road with many house styles—a mix of old and modern. Arthur had begun his education at St Peter’s Boys’ School in Parkstone and from there he attended a private school in Clapham, London. In December 1903 Arthur took the Preliminary Examination for the Certificate and the Archbishops’ Entrance Examination for which he was awarded a First Class pass. In preparation for his training as a teacher at Winchester he had also taken an exam in Elementary Physiography in which he again excelled with a first class pass.

By the 1911 Census Arthur had left the family home and was boarding at 5, Beaumont Road, Bourneville, Birmingham where he was a certificated assistant schoolmaster in an Elementary School. The house in Bourneville still exists and can be found on google maps. The rest of the Osborn family were still in Dorset, with the two brothers having left home and the youngest, Dorothy still at home. Caroline the mother in law had passed away and Samuel’s brother Alfred was shown as being 50 and still with his brother and this time the reason was given that he was feeble minded. It shows the measure of the family when looking after its own. To supplement the income the family had taken in two boarders both from Essex, one of whom was 12.

Winchester Training College

Arthur attended Winchester Training College from 1905 – 1907, from the 1901 census he appears to have been destined for the profession as he was practising before entry at eighteen into the college. His attestation papers record he served an apprenticeship at St. Peters Church of England School, Parkstone, Dorset until December 1904. The College Record Book states that he also spent time as an assistant teacher at Heatherland Boys’ School in Poole, Dorset. The Bournemouth Daily Echo from Thursday 10th August 1905, reports that: “An assistant master, Mr A.G. Osborne [sic], on leaving for Winchester Training College, was made the recipient of a fountain pen.”

Whilst at Winchester he would have become a part of B company of the Hampshire Rifle Volunteer Corps, which stood him in good stead for what was to come a few years later. His attestation record states that he spent three years in 1st Hants Battalion, which was not the usual College Battalion.

The Wintonian 1904-1906 records a raft of activities and information on Arthur, who was one of those students ready to embrace all that he could whilst at College.

Arthur Osborn played cricket for the Juniors team.

In the Debating Society “ Is Socialism a Remedy for Social Evils?”, Mr Osborn opened the debate in favour of socialism.

In  the election of officers for 06-07 Guy Osborn took up the position of editor of the Wintonian magazine.

In the first College “Smoker” of the year in the Common Room, Osborn was one of the Juniors who contributed to the concert. “ The proceedings were brought to an end by the College song, cheers for the Masters, and the National Anthem.”

Football in College was reorganised to allow all abilities to compete and Osborn was in the Arcadians team.

Arthur was an academically able student who by the first set of college exams at Christmas in his first year, was placed 2nd in the order of merit.  By the end of the year he was placed first in the order of merit with an average mark of 81.3%. On completion of his course he was graded by the college as A for Teaching, Music and Science although he only achieved an E grade for drawing. He was awarded a first class pass in his Certificate Examination, gaining distinctions in Music and Teaching.

The War

After war had been declared  Arthur was recorded (according to his medal roll) on October 10th 1914, as a private in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, number 955, attesting in Birmingham.

He was described  as 5ft 8½in tall, weighing 138lbs. with a 36½ in chest, and a chest expansion of 4in. Arthur had a fresh complexion with grey eyes and brown hair. He was quickly promoted to Corporal and by March 1915 had become Sergeant.  This is where Arthur’s story is rather puzzling. Records show that on 10th July 1915 he both filled out the application to apply for a commission and reverted to the rank of Private at his own request. We have not yet discovered if this was an unusual course to take or fairly standard practice. As far as we have been able to ascertain it was not required under King’s Regulations. Currently there is no evidence to show why he was drawn to the South Wales Borderers, but this was the Regiment he requested on his application for commissioning.

Arthur sent a letter home explaining the training and activities that he was involved in with the regiment.

The enthusiasm, the hilarity, and the determination after week’s ‘gruelling’ have been well maintained, and there has already sprung into existence a factor which will make even more than these towards the success of the ‘Birmingham Boys’ as soldiers of the King. This factor is the sense of comradeship between fellows in the same squad or same company, – the esprit de corps which makes ‘D’ company or No. 23 Squad, THE BEST—indeed the ONE AND ONLY for the men in it. It leads to the most healthy desire to make one’s squad or one’s company excel, and leads to the passing round of the word “smarten up boys!” when, after more than three hours’ hard drill, The return to the parade ground is made.

This week we have had parades daily:

  1. from 7 am to 7:50 am for physical exercises (many of which are stiff)
  2. from 9:30 am to 12:45 pm
  3. from 2:00 pm to 4:45 pm

The second and third parades are devoted to squad drill, but so rapid has been the progress that all squads have already had considerable practice in extended order drill (skirmishing) while the BEST company… D Company, in which the majority of the teachers (including myself) are enrolled, has actually had two practices in company drill. D company is fortunate in having the most splendidly efficient Sergeant-Major in Sergeant-Major Phillips (CSM J W Phillips No. 1084), who was perhaps the best officer in the whole battalion. With regards to myself, I am glad to say that I am standing the hard grind jolly well. My heart is in this business, and though I am not yet free from ‘aches’ I am beginning to feel most fit. Apparently I am doing well. On Thursday I was called out with others to give a few commands to the fellows in my squad, i.e. 20 fellows, for the whole of the first parade. In a week or so I am taking the Corporal’s examination, so I may soon be “955 Cpl A G Osborn” (I say I may). I am billeted with three chums: Jack Reeves (No. 971, from Beaumont Road, Bournville), Wilfred Ward (from Featherstone Road, Kings Heath), and Arthur Bacon (No. 852, from Birchwood Crescent, Moseley). Bacon is a singer of sentimental and comic songs and he’s a real humourist at times. We all find ourselves very jolly and comfortable together, and spare time passes only too quickly. Our hosts are “doing us well”. Mr C Jones, in whose house we are living, said to his wife: “The lads are doing their best for their country; let us do our best for them.” And they are doing it right down well.

So far we are without uniforms, but we are proud of the badge we all have to wear.

Letter from the then Private A.G. Osborn 955 D Company Royal Warwickshire Regiment

However he was commissioned as a temporary Second Lieutenant into the 12th Battalion SWB, 19th July 1915 and this was published in the London Gazette in August 1915. Arthur arrived at his new regiment months after its formation in March 1915.This battalion was reported as a Bantam unit, and was for those who were of mixed regulation height and shorter men. It wasn’t until September 1915 when they were moved to Aldershot, where the formation was renamed as 119th Brigade, 40th Division, and the War Diary shows their movements from when they landed at Le Havre on 2 June 1916. The delay was caused by the need to weed out all the really undersized men from the unit.The Division moved to France between 2 and 6 June 1916 and by 9 June had concentrated near Lillers. It then served between June and late October 1916 on the front near Loos. The 40th Division remained on the Western Front throughout the rest of the war.

From the Long Long Trail, the division was involved in a number of actions whilst in France until their disbandment in 1918. The first being the Ancre, which was associated with the Somme, and then in 1917 the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line  and the capture of Fifteen Ravine, Villiers Plouich, Beaucamp and La Vacquerie ( the latter was when Arthur fell).

14th March 1916 was a special day in Arthur’s life as he married Frances Elizabeth Hall. She was listed as a professional singer born in Swansea and residing in Chingford Essex with her mother and father and eight siblings. The census returns show that the family moved around a great deal as the siblings were all born in different parts of the UK. It related to the fact that her father was a superintendant of grain cargoes. Frances lived to be 98 when she died in Droitwitch, she did remarry in 1929.

1917 saw many actions that became increasingly attritional in their action, the War Diary for the South Wales Borderers tells of increased night actions and the need to capture prisoners as intelligence was seen to be paramount to on-going success. The German retreat to the Hindenburg line signalled this growing need for harassing the enemy without let up, subsequent engagements beginning at Fifteen ravine heralded the start of a series of actions that would eventually see the death of Arthur.

“Fifteen Ravine” was the name given by the Army to the shallow ravine, once bordered by fifteen trees, which ran at right angles to the railway about 800 metres south of the village of Villers-Plouich, but the cemetery is in fact in “Farm Ravine,” on the east side of the railway line, nearer to the village. The cemetery, sometimes called Farm Ravine Cemetery, was begun by the 17th Welsh Regiment in April 1917, a few days after the capture of the ravine by the 12th South Wales Borderers.”

The Trench map (courtesy of the National Library of Scotland) shows the trenches corrected to May 1917 and includes the village of Beaucamps, Villiers Plouich, La Vacquerie and also SW of Villiers lies Fifteen Ravine.

Accounts of the action at La Vacquerie can be found at here. A common yet brutal action for the year.

By the end of April the Fourth Army had captured almost all the villages west of the Hindenburg Line. Vendhuille and Honnecourt would have been untenable; Thorigny, Pontru and Pontruet could have been occupied, but would probably have proved traps. There remained the hamlet of La Vacquerie, east of Villers Plouich.

The South Wales Borderers War Diary, gives an example of the actions taking place, which included Capt. Arthur Osborn

At the beginning of May General Rawlinson was preparing to attack the Hindenburg Line between Banteux on the Canal de St. Quentin and the bend of the Canal du Nord at Havrincourt, with the object of capturing the Flesquieres Ridge. This operation was to have been carried out simultaneously with another by the Third Army against the Drocourt-Queant Line, which, if successful, was to be exploited by the Fifth Army turning the Hindenburg Line from Queant eastward. General Rawlinson considered that La Vacquerie would have to be taken, as a preliminary step, some ten days earlier. However, the developments of Anglo-French policy already described pushed the project into the background, as division after division was withdrawn. La Vacquerie was actually held for over an hour on the night of the 5th May as the result of a big raid by the 8th and 40th Divisions; but the heavy losses from artillery fire showed that its permanent occupation would be extremely costly and was unwarranted unless the attack on the Hindenburg Line was restored to the programme. The village was eventually included by the Germans in a strong entrenchment which came to be looked upon as part of the Hindenburg Line proper.

It was the raid on La Vacquerie that Arthur Guy Osborn, now promoted to Captain, fell and was buried firstly in Fins Churchyard, and then later he was exhumed at taken to Fins Sorel Road.

Osborns Burial Return. Courtesy of Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Once the war was over and Arthur’s effect and medals were returned to his wife, probate shows that he left £340 19s 7d, the medal roll card shows his wife living at the family home at 144 Hainault Road Leytonstone E11.

As a postscript, Arthur was

Awarded “Mentioned in Despatches” in FM Haig’s Despatch of 7th November 1917, published in London Gazette Issue 30434 dated 14th December 1917.

Some seven months after his death.

To date no evidence has been found to indicate on which if any war memorial in the UK Arthur is remembered.

 

Author and Researcher: John Westwood

Sources

Ancestry (2018). Home page. [online] Available at: www.ancestry.co.uk [Accessed 2018].

British Newspaper Archive (2018). Bournemouth Daily Echo – Thursday 10th August 1905, p.2. [online] Available at: https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000638/19050810/053/0002 [Accessed 2018].

Commonwealth War Graves Commission, (2018). Home page. [online] Available at www.cwgc.org/ [Accessed 2018].

The National Archives (2018). Captain Arthur Guy OSBORN. The South Wales Borderers. WO 339/38236. London.

Rose, M. (1981). A history of King Alfred’s College, Winchester 1840-1980. London: Phillimore.

The National Archives (2018). Captain Arthur Guy OSBORN. The South Wales Borderers. WO 339/38236. London.

 

University of Winchester Archive – Hampshire Record Office
Reference code Record
47M91W/ P2/4 The Wintonian 1899-1900
47M91W/ P2/5 The Wintonian 1901-1902
47M91W/ P2/6 The Wintonian 1903-1904
47M91W/ P2/7 The Wintonian 1904-1906
47M91W/ P2/8 The Wintonian 1905-1907
47M91W/ P2/10 The Wintonian 1908-1910
47M91W/ P2/11 The Wintonian 1910-1914
47M91W/ P2/12 The Wintonian 1920-1925
47M91W/ D1/2 The Student Register
47M91W/ S5//5/10 Photograph of 5 alumni in Mesopotamia
47M91W/ Q3/6 A Khaki Diary
47M91W/ B1/2 Reports of Training College 1913-1914
47M91W/ Q1/5 Report and Balance Sheets 1904- 1949
47M91W/ R2/5 History of the Volunteers Company 1910
47M91W/ L1/2 College Rules 1920
Hampshire Record Office archive
71M88W/6 List of Prisoners at Kut
55M81W/PJ1 Managers’ Minute Book 1876-1903
All material referenced as 47M91W/ is the copyright of The University of Winchester. Permission to reproduce photographs and other material for this narrative has been agreed by the University and Hampshire Record Office.