Private 7973 Matthias Summerland
1st Bn., Leicestershire Regiment who died on 25 October 1914

Matthias Summerland
Matthias Summerland

Family History

Matthias Summerland was born in Oadby in 1885, the son of Susan Summerland, a hosiery hand. In 1911, the family including his older brother Harry lived at 3 London Road, Oadby, also described as Fern Bank.

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This picture of London Road, Oadby in 1914 shows Summerland’s home – at the beginning of the terrace on the left

They formed part of a large extended family of Summerlands living in Oadby; although it appears that Matthias’ mother was single. His army Short Service Attestation document describes him as having light brown hair and grey eyes and with good physical development, being 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighing 123 pounds. Tall and well-built compared with many of their contemporaries Matthias and his brother Harry were members of the Oadby Rugby Football Club.

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Matthias can be seen second from the right on the third row and his brother Harry third from the left on the second row of this picture of the Oadby RFC 1912-1913

Service History

On 21 August 1906 Matthias, at the age of twenty, left his work as a shoe hand in Oadby to enlist in the 1st Battalion Leicestershire Regiment for a period of twelve years, seven on active service followed by five years in the reserve. He transferred to the 2nd Leicesters on 6 November 1907 and was stationed at Shorncliffe prior to embarkation overseas to India. He served at Belgaum from 30 November 1907 to 11 February 19011. The 2nd Battalion was then posted to Madras, where he served until 4 February 1913  Matthias also saw service in Poona and Ranikhet. Towards the end of his active service, in March 1912, he was awarded St. John Ambulance certificates in First Aid for the Injured and for Sanitation. His regular service complete, Matthias returned to England and was transferred into the Army Reserve in December 1913. Prior to the outbreak of war he was employed by the Post Office.

The day after war was declared Matthias, together with all the other Leicester Reservists, was mobilised and billeted at Glen Parva Barracks.

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Recalled Reservists at the Magazine in Leicester, August 1914

 

War Record and the Battle of the River Aisne

The Reservists were quickly entrained for Fermoy, Ireland, where the 1st Battalion was stationed.  Matthias and the other Reservists arrived on 9 August.  However, by 14 August the Battalion was on the move, travelling to England via Holyhead.  They joined the 6th Division based around Cambridge and Newmarket on 19 August at a camp on Coldham Common. Here training was resumed and all three Brigades of the Division (16th, 17th and 18th Infantry Brigades) came together. On 27 August the Division moved to Grantchester and stayed there for ten days.  The final Reservists replaced men unfit for combat.
Embarkation orders for France were received on 7 September.  At Southampton they boarded the Braemar Castle.  The Leicesters landed at St Nazaire, on 10 September, after being at sea for two days. The Division endured a long train journey arriving at Mortcerf, East of Paris early in the morning of 13 September. Here the Division was billeted. A long march then commenced to the Aisne.

On the afternoon of the 20 September the 6th Division reached the British Army in the line, at Courcelles as they were digging in, on the far side of the River Aisne. The Division immediately relieved troops that had been fighting since the retreat from Mons and the Battles of the Marne and the Aisne. On 21 September the Battalion relieved the Worcesters and Royal Irish Rifles in the trenches at La Fosse Marguel. They suffered from enemy shell fire and sniping.

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Soldiers of the 1st Leicesters man machine guns on the Aisne in September 1914

Chocolates and cigarettes were issued to the men on 6 October.  The following day they were given a blanket per man as the nights were now terribly cold.
After being in the trenches for nine weeks, on the evening of 12/13 October the 106th French Infantry relieved the 1st Leicesters. The Battalion entrained at Fismes on 13 October.  A 30 hour train journey took them past Paris, branching off to St. Denis, Etaples and Boulogne.  The men were crammed 40 to each horse box.  Some brave souls slept on the roof.  They disembarked at Cassel and marched via Oultersteene, Cruseobeau taking up defensive positions at Croix Blanch on 17 October.

16th Infantry Brigade rejoined the 6th Division from the Aisne on 18 October.  A push was ordered and Radinghem was captured and then retaken by the Germans. The Brigades of 6th Division held positions from Radinghem to Ennetieres and thence from Premesque to Epinette.

The Leicesters were in defensive positions at Croix Blanche and then Rue Du Bois where it relieved the West Yorkshire Regiment, in the line, at the Chemical Factory, under repeated attacks and continuous enfilade gun fire.   They suffered from heavy artillery and machine gun fire and were counterattacked.  The German artillery was able to dominate the battlefield and it brought this considerable weight of fire onto the heads of the British infantry, along the entire front.  The BEF was heavily outnumbered and outgunned.
On the 21 October 1914 the 1st Leicesters relieved 1st Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment near Rue du Bois.  Battalion Head Quarters was established in the railway station at La Houssoie. The following day the Leicesters who were in the line, about the Rue du Bois, were heavily shelled with shrapnel and heavy howitzers all day.13 men were killed and 25 wounded. On the 23 October the Battalion was again heavily shelled all day. The Germans attacked at dawn and again at 4.30pm. Both attacks were repulsed and beaten off. However, seven men were killed and 22 wounded.

On 24 October the situation became critical – the Germans massed for an infantry attack.  The Leicesters pulled back to the railway embankment at La Houssoie. The next day, 25 October 1914 the Germans attacked in huge strength principally against ‘D’ Company.  Trenches were overrun and many D Company men were taken prisoners of war.  The Germans were driven out of the lost trenches by dusk.  The main action switched to the level crossing just south of La Houssoie.  Again the main thrust fell upon D Company.  “Close hand to hand fighting took place at the level crossing barrier”. Two Distinguished Conduct Medals were awarded for bravery on this day. The 1st Leicesters were ordered to retire, and were withdrawn to rest and recover.

Seven officers had been killed or wounded including the Battalion Commanding Officer.  47 men were killed, with 134 wounded and 106 missing, amongst them was Matthias Summerland. He was 28 years.

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Private Matthias Summerland’s Service Record noting his death in 1914 (click to enlarge)

 

Memorials

Like more than 11,000 Allied soldiers who died in battles in the area and have no known grave, Matthias is remembered at the Ploegsteert Memorial, Belgium.

Plugstreet Memorial IV

Ploegsteert Memorial, Belgium.

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Matthias Summerland is also honoured,along with his brother Harry who died in 1917, on the Memorial Tablet in Oadby Baptist Church