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Stapleton Hollett

Served with Essex County Constabulary from Apr 15, 1913 and died on Nov 27, 1917.

Stapleton Hollett was born in 1890 in Ash, Kent; he was named after his father, the local blacksmith. His mother was called Alice. After leaving school Stapleton became a Grenadier guardsman and then on his discharge from the army he joined Essex Constabulary on April 13, 1913, serving as Constable 177. He was stationed at Harwich.

At the outbreak of war, in August 1914, Stapleton was recalled to the colours as Serjeant 14729. His expectation would have been to join the Battalion with which he had served previously and this was probably the 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards. However, at some stage during the course of the war he was transferred to the 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards in which he was serving at the time of his death. Such transfers were not uncommon.

The 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards did not move to France at the outbreak of war but were retained in London, when the rest of the regular army left for France, to protect the King and Parliament. Their move to France did not occur till the formation of the Guards Division in August, 1915.

Six Battalions of Guards went to France with the original British Expeditionary Force (total strength 150,000), which crossed the Channel between August 12 and 17, 1914.

The 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards, the 2nd and 3rd Battalions Coldstream Guards and the1st Battalion Irish Guards constituted the 4th (Guards) Brigade. Percy Battle and Herbert Button, former police colleagues of Stapleton Hollett, were with him in the same battalion when they left for France.

On August 23 the 4th Guards Brigade went into the line at Binche-Mons-Conde in an effort to stem the German advance south from Belgium. Facing far superior numbers a retreat was ordered with the Guards forming the infantry rear guard. The retreat continued and on September 1 the 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards were involved in intense fighting in Villers Cotterets Forest suffering heavy losses, one of the casualties being Percy Unsworth Battle.

On September 6 the Allied Armies turned to the offensive and managed to push the Germans back across the Marne and the Aisne. The Guards played a major role in this advance and sustained high casualties when the Germans held their position at Soupir.

This action brought the war of movement to an end and was the beginning of the trench warfare that was to last for the next three years.

In October the 4th (Guards) Brigade moved north to Flanders in time for the opening of the first battle of Ypres on October 19, 1914. The 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards saw action in the vicinity of the village of Reutel and then near Shrewsbury Forest where Herbert Button was killed on November 1. By the time they were withdrawn on November 20 the 4th (Guards) Division had lost 1,700 men.

Their time out of the line was short lived. Having reached Bethune on December 22 they took over a very wet part of the line to the north east of that town. At the end of January 1915, they moved to the Cuinchy sector of the front, south of the La Bassee Canal, remaining in this area till early spring. About this time Stapleton wrote a letter to a former Police colleague in Harwich. The letter was published by the Essex County Chronicle (February 5, 1915).

"We are having the weather a bit better out here lately, and all the boys are in the best of spirits. We have four in my Company who have won the DCM. Our regiment has done some splendid work. If you know one or two who want to get an honourable name tell them to join the Guards, they will never regret it.I've seen some horrible sights and one day I hope to be able to tell you some of my experiences."
On May 17 the 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards saw action in the battle of Festubert and then remained in the line, with the 2nd Division, in that area at Vermelles, Auchy, Cambrin and Givenchy till they were withdrawn on the formation of the Guards Division.

The Guards Division was formed in August 1915, at the instigation of Lord Kitchener. The six Guards Battalions that formed part of the British Expeditionary Force in August 1914 had sustained heavy losses and the new Division included a large numbers of Kitchener's Volunteers. It is possible that it was at this time Stapleton Hollett was transferred to the 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards.

The 2nd Guards Brigade of The Guards Division comprised - 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards, 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards, 1st Battalion Scots Guards and 2nd Battalion Irish Guards.

The Battle of Loos was the first of the greater offensive operations in which the British Army took part, lasting from September 25 till October 8, 1915. The Guards Division were moved into the line on September 27 after an unsuccessful attack the previous day, with orders to attack the Chalk Pit and Puits No.14 bis on the Lens - La Bassee road and Hill 70. The 2nd Guards Brigade were successful in securing the Chalk Pit and the lower slopes of the rising ground on which Puits No. 14 bis was situated but only after sustaining heavy losses. They remained in the line under heavy fire till they were relieved on September 30.

On October 4 they were back in the line with the 2nd Brigade coming under an infantry attack by the Germans on October 8, close to a track leading from Le Rutoire to the Loos - Haisnes road. A portion of the line was lost but then recaptured; once again with heavy losses. About this time gas cylinders were stored in the area held by the 2nd Guards Brigade - the first time that gas was to be used by the British. The 2nd Guards Brigade was relieved on October 11.

They were back in the line on October 14 with the objective to capture and hold Dump and Fosse trenches and to form a defensive flank to enable a further advance on Fosse number 8. Whilst the distance involved was not great it was complicated by the damage that had been caused to the trench system by continuous enemy artillery fire.

The War Diary 1st Bn. Coldstream Guards records:

'The state of the trenches was terrible, unburied bodies lying everywhere, and the parapets and communications trenches blown in on all sides. The trenches allotted to the battalion were knocked about and we found dead bodies, equipment and debris of all kinds mixed up together.'
An attack was mounted on October 17, but after intense fighting little progress was made and casualties were heavy. The Guards then held the line till they were relieved on October 26.

Loos had been a baptism of fire for the New Army that had proved the courage of the citizen troops. Many of the remaining members of the original Guards Brigade, who had been part of the original Expeditionary Force, were killed in the action at Loos. The use of gas by the British caused many casualties to their own side, no significant gains were made and there were 43,000 British casualties.

Over the winter of 1915-1916 the Guards spent time in the billeting area west of Bethune and also had spells in the line between Neuve Chapelle and Fauquissart. On February 19, 1916, after some difficult marching on slippery snow covered roads, the Guards Division arrived in Flanders to join XIV Corps in the Second Army area. Initially the 2nd Guards Brigade were not deployed in the line and spent time in reserve in and around Poperinghe.

An indication of the losses suffered by the Grenadier Guards between August 25, 1915, and April 26, 1916, can be gained from the reinforcements sent to the front during the same period, these totalled 69 officers and 2587 other ranks.

On June 15 the 2nd Guards Brigade were transported north to take over the line opposite Hooge where they relieved the Canadians. Conditions in the trenches were terrible and the enemy's artillery fire was very severe. They were relieved on June 22 and then remained on the Ypres Salient till July 27 when they were required to move south to support the Allied operations on the Somme with that battle in full progress; (Battle of the Somme July 1 - November 18, 1916). Arriving on July 30, the Guards Division was billeted in the area of Bouquemaison - Lucheux - Halloy with Divisional Headquarters at Doullens.

From August 9 to 15, the Guards took over the line just west of Beaumont Hamel to a point opposite Serre, the 2nd Guards Brigade held the center position. They were then moved to support the attack on the Gueudecourt - Lesboeufs - Morval line with the date of the attack fixed for September 15. Nine tanks were detailed to support the attack 'marking the first appearance of this new engine of warfare on the field of battle.'

The 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards were positioned in trenches about 300 yards east of Ginchy. At 6.20 am September 15 a 'creeping barrage' came down and the Guards moved forward. They were exposed to heavy fire but continued the advance. Fighting continued throughout the day, with the Germans mounting counter attacks, and on through the night. Despite determined action by the enemy the Guards achieved their objective and then held their line. The tanks proved of little or no assistance, in what was an infantry battle, as they were late in crossing the parapet and were unable to move forward in advance of the leading battalions. Given the losses the Guards Division had experienced they were relieved from their position on the night of September 16. Total casualties of the 2nd Guards Brigade during this action were 61 officers and 1,706 other ranks - killed, wounded or missing.

The Guards were only out of the line for three days, during which their depleted ranks were filled with drafts from England. They returned to the line on September 19 with an objective to co-operate with the French in securing the line Morval - Lesboeufs - Gueudecourt where they met fierce resistance but successfully took Lesboeufs. The initial attack was made by 1st and 3rd Guards Brigades with 2nd Brigade remaining in reserve until September 26 when they relieved the other two Brigades in the line at 11.30pm. They were then relieved by 167th Infantry Brigade on the night of 30th September. Although the losses of 2nd Brigade were light - 151 officers and men, the Division had sustained further heavy losses, 2,340 officers and men, and after a short rest at Carnoy the Division was moved to No. 4 Training area south-west of Amiens.

Sir Henry Rawlinson praised the Guards Division in his order of 8th October:

'It has become clear that the gallantry and perseverance of The Guards Division in the battles of 15th and 25th September were paramount factors in the success of The Fourth Army on those days... I desire to tender to every officer, N.C.O., and man my congratulations and best thanks for their exemplary valour...'
The battle of The Somme drew to a close on November 18, in four and a half months the British and Dominion casualties were 419,654, the French 204,253 and the German around 600,000. Although some ground had been taken no major breakthrough was achieved.

The Guards spent the winter of 1916/17 in the Somme area with spells in the front line where they experienced bad weather, heavy snow and little action.

At the end of May 1917, the Guards Division moved by train to the area of the Second Army in Flanders where plans were in readiness for an attack on the Messines- Wytschaete Ridge. This marked the start of the Third Battle of Ypres which lasted from June 7 to November 10, 1917.

Messines Ridge was captured in one day's fighting on June 7 and the Guards, who had been held in reserve, were not called upon to take any active part.

There was a considerable delay before the next offensive when 12 Divisions, including the Guards, made an attack on an 11 mile front in pouring rain on July 31. The 2nd and 3rd Guards Brigades advanced from the Yser Canal, near Boesinghe, and achieved their objective with the taking of Pilckem Ridge, driving back the enemy some two and a half miles on a front of about 1,500 yards. They captured 15 officers and 617 other ranks. Elsewhere the attack was less successful and around the Menin Road men literally became stuck. The earlier bombardment had totally destroyed the water table and the heavy rain had no drainage. Shell holes filled with water and the earth turned into a sticky, clinging mud made foul with the rotting corpses of men and horses.

The rain continued without cessation for four days and nights and the Guards held their positions whilst standing, up to their knees, in water. They were finally relieved in the line on August 7.

On August 27 the Guards were back in the line near Broembeek Stream with posts in Ney Wood and Ney Copse and during the following three weeks they experienced heavy barrage from the enemy and a number of attacks, all of which were checked. The Division was relieved on September 21, but by this time 30 officers and 760 other ranks had been lost.

On October 9 the Guards Division made an advance crossing the Broembeek stream towards Houthulst Forest. The 2nd and 3rd Brigades led the advance alongside 29th Division. Despite accurate sniping fire from Houlthulst Forest all objectives were achieved with 2nd Brigade holding the northern side of the road leading westward from Les Cinq Chemins.

A further advance was made by 3rd Guards Brigade on October 12, but once again heavy rain brought things to a standstill. During the next few days the Guards were preoccupied trying to improve their defensive position as the rain fell incessantly and the Broembeek Stream poured water over its banks, until the greater part of the Division's area was under water. They were finally relieved on October 17 and moved by train to the Eperlecques area.

The 2nd Guards Brigade lost 29 0ffices and 826 other ranks between July 26 and 31, and 26 officers and 537 other ranks during the October fighting. Divisional losses between July and October were 303 officers and 7,898 other ranks.

The Guards Division were only in rest billets for three weeks before they were moved south to the Cambrai sector where a surprise offensive was launched on the German 2nd Army on November 20, 1917, using nearly 400 tanks. On the first day extensive gains were made but just two weeks later the British were almost back to where they had started with each side sustaining 40,000 casualties.

On November 24, 2nd Guards Brigade took a position near Riecourt where they were compelled to lie out in the open for two nights in persistent snow and were drenched to the skin before relieving 1st Guards Brigade in the line on November 26 near Fontaine-Notre-Dame.

At 6.20am November 27 the artillery barrage came down and 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards, supported by other battalions from 2nd Guards Brigade, advanced along both sides of the Bapaume - Cambrai road to assault Fontaine-Notre-Dame. They met with heavy, accurate machine gun fire from La Folie wood but despite heavy losses the battalion succeeded in reaching their first objective - the outskirts of Fontaine-Notre-Dame at 7.15 am and again came under heavy fire. With their considerable losses and the continued machine-gun fire the battalion could only consolidate their position.

The other battalions of 2nd Guards Brigade were able to seize the railway station and reached their final objectives, but they too were under heavy fire and because of losses did not have sufficient strength to clear the village that still had many Germans in houses and cellars. Reinforcements were called for but the Grenadiers were in danger of being surrounded and had to withdraw from their position. The brigade was finally relieved during the night of November 27. Between November 25 and December 6, 1917, the total losses of the 2nd Guards Brigade was 40 officers and 1,136 other ranks.

Stapleton Hollett died during the action on November 27, 1917. He was twenty-seven years old. His body if ever recovered was not identified and together with over 7,000 other men who died in the battle for Cambrai and who have no known grave he is commemorated on panel 2 of the Cambrai Memorial at Louerval, Nord, France. On a visit to the memorial on March 15, 2006, it was pleasing to see that a wreath had been laid a few days earlier in remembrance of seven Metropolitan Police Officers who had died during the battle for Cambrai and who are also commemorated on the Cambrai Memorial.

Stapleton's father died in 1919 and at that time his mother was living at Elm Tree Cottage, Hook Green, Moepham, Kent.

For you no medals such as others wear -
A cross of bronze for those approved brave -
To you is given, above a shallow grave,
The Wooden Cross that marks you resting there.
Lt. C W Winterbotham.
(Died 27th August, 1916)

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