22272 11th Bn., Leicestershire Regiment who died on 25 September 1916

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Family History

Wilfred Thomas Sturgess was born in 1896, the youngest son of Amos and Rachel (nee Bowles) Sturgess. He was one of ten children, of whom eight survived into adulthood. The family were living at 10 Spencer Street, Oadby in 1911 and Amos was working as a glove hand. Wilfred was working in a hosiery warehouse and most of his brothers and sisters were also hosiery workers, with the exception of his sister Clara who ran a confectionary shop on London Road.

 

Active Service

Wilfred’s service record no longer exists, but at some point he joined the 11th Battalion of the Leicestershire regiment. The 11th (Service) Battalion (Midland Pioneers) was formed in October 1915 by the Mayor of Leicester Sir Jonathan North and a local committee. The Midland Pioneers landed in France in March 1916 and joined the 1st Battalion in serving the 6th Infantry Division.

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Pioneers repairing a plank road following mine crater damage.

Pioneer companies were a new concept in the British army, first introduced in 1914. They provided the Royal Engineers with skilled labour, thus relieving the infantry from some of its non-combative duties. These battalions were involved in the construction of roads, bridges, communication trenches and military camps. They dug and wired in all weathers and all terrain. On many occasions they also fought alongside the infantry in repelling enemy attacks. One army captain recalled, “A typical pioneer job was this – to be present under shell fire all day in support of the main attack. Then move forward and grab ground and dig trenches in so called no man’s land under enemy fire at night. Go back before daybreak, sleep and start again. Casualties no object.”

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Pioneers at work on the Somme Battlefield 1916

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The Somme Battlefield July to November 1916

The 11th Battalion were carrying out work on the Somme in 1916, in Mesnil- Martinsart, Englebelmer, and Mailly Maillet and by early September were in the Meaulte area.

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Postcard showing the ruins of Meaulte after the war

The war diary for 25 September records activity at the start of the advance on the villages of Morval, Gueudecourt and Les Boeufs which were held by the German 1st Army. “At 8am ‘B’ and ‘C’ companies worked on construction of track from Guillemont through Ginchy towards Les Boeufs. At 12.35 the attack was entirely successful and by the evening” all three villages had been captured.

The 11th Battalion lost three soldiers during the attack, including Private Wilfred Thomas Sturgess

Memorials

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There is no known grave for Private Wilfred Sturgess and he is Remembered with Honour on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing.

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Wilfred’s death was recorded in the minutes of the Oadby Urban District Council. (Leicester Mercury 14 October 1916).