Skip Navigation
Body fade

William Martin

Served with Essex County Constabulary from Apr 1, 1914 and died on Jan 14, 1917.

William Martin was born in Glasgow, the son of George Martin. He was a single man who enlisted with the Scots Guards after leaving school. On completion of his military service he joined Essex Constabulary on April 1, 1914. He barely completed four months' service as a police officer when he was recalled to the Colours on August 4, 1914, and rejoined his colleagues in 1st Battalion Scots Guards as Lance Corporal 7894.

The 1st Battalion Scots Guards was one of six Battalions of Guards that went to France with the original British Expeditionary Force, crossing the Channel between August 12 and 17, 1914.

The 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards, 1st Battalion Scots Guards, 1st Battalion Black Watch and 2nd Battalion Royal Munster Fusiliers formed the 1st Guards Brigade of the 1st Division. They were commanded by Brig-General Ivor Maxse.

The 1st Guards Brigade had little involvement in the retreat from Mons; however, they formed part of the rear guard of the division on August 27, and formed the infantry of the advanced guard of the 1st Division when the Allied Armies turned and advanced on 6th September. Having crossed the Petit Morin and the Marne they were not seriously engaged till September 14, the day after crossing the Aisne. After struggling up the wooded Vendresse valley and taking positions along the Chemin des Dames they came under continuous artillery fire and sustained heavy losses.

The History of the Guards Division in the Great War records:

'Lt-Colonel Ponsonby eventually collected the equivalent of about a company of his men and continued the advance, penetrating about a mile within the enemy's line and occupying a very forward position beyond the village of Cerny. Then followed some confused fighting in the fog that was very thick. For a time the Guards were able to hold their own, but in the afternoon a heavy counter-attack, in which eighteen German battalions took part, was launched against the front held by the 1st Division. The Coldstream, Scots Guards and Cameron Highlanders made a gallant resistance and attacked in their turn, but the enemy's pressure was too great and they were eventually obliged to relinquish their forward positions.'
The 1st Battalion Scots Guards lost 6 officers and 114 other ranks during this days fighting. Joseph Farmer another Essex policeman, serving with the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards, was taken prisoner during the action on September 14.

The 1st Guards Brigade were next in action on October 21 during the First Battle of Ypres. They went into the line advancing in a north-easterly direction towards Koekuit. Some progress was made but repeated attacks by the German Infantry, together with intense artillery fire on October 22 and 23 checked the advance and brought the battle of Langemark to an end. The 1st Scots Guards suffered 50 casualties in the battle of Langemark.

The Guards were relieved by the French on October 25 and the following evening moved to a position north of the Menin Road. Between October 26 and 29 the Coldstream Guards and the Scots Guards were under relentless artillery fire that was as effective as it was persistent. Casualties were heavy. Early in the morning of October 29 the Germans attacked in strength along both sides of the Menin Road and broke through the British lines at Gheluvelt cross-roads, inflicting further losses on the Guards who fought with splendid determination and prevented further progress being made by the enemy.

When darkness fell on that day the 1st Battalion Scots Guards had lost 8 Officers and 336 other ranks. The 1st Coldstream Guards had fared even worse and only 80 men remained. William Burnett, another Essex Police Officer who was serving with the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards, was one of those who died.

The 1st Battalion Scots Guards remained in the line without any kind of break till November 13 by which time they had lost a total of 707.

After a short time in reserve 1st (Guards) Brigade was moved in to the line near Bethune to support the Indian Corps in the defence of Givenchy. Over the winter period they had several tours in the trenches at Givenchy and Cuinchy.

During the summer of 1915, up to the formation of the Guards Division in August 1915, 1st (Guards) Brigade were employed in the trenches south of the La Bassee Canal.

In August 1915, with the influx of volunteers, Lord Kitchener instigated the creation of a Guards Division. The 1st Coldstream Guards together with the 1st Scots Guards and the 2nd Irish Guards formed the 2nd Brigade of that Division.

During the winter of 1915/1916 the Guards Division took over the front line in the vicinity of Neuve Chapelle. The front line defences, which were located on marshy ground, had been neglected and were in bad condition and attempts were made to improve the defences over the winter period. The Germans, on the other hand, were located on the Aubers Ridge in a much more comfortable position and probably because of this took little offensive action during that winter period.

Each Guards brigade spent six out of every eighteen days in divisional reserve in good billets, and during a brigade's period in the front line only two of the battalions were deployed in the front line trenches, with the remainder kept in reserve a little distance from the line in tolerably comfortable billets in ruined farms and cottages.

Some good baths were installed for the use of those in reserve at a brewery in La Gorgue and at Pont du Hem. A cinema was purchased out of divisional funds and a small hall at La Gorgue was then converted into a theatre where the latest films from England were regularly 'released'. Despite the discomfort and dampness of this low lying sector the morale of the Guards Division throughout the winter remained high. Much of the time spent in reserve involved training with regular inspections.

In February 1916, The Guards Division moved north to the fields of Flanders arriving, after some trying marching on the slippery snow covered roads, on 19th February. They took over the front line in the Ypres Salient on March 16. When not deployed on trench duties the brigades were held in reserve in and around Poperinghe, Cassel or Calais. The weather at this time was very wet and cold and a good deal of snow fell, so that much training in the open was not possible. The sector of the line on which the Guards found themselves was described as incomparably the most unpleasant part of the whole British front. The trench system was in a state of dilapidation and ruin.

During the latter part of March and early April considerable effort was made to improve trench defences, but this was hindered by continued shelling. There was also difficulty with the provision of supplies with the only road from Poperinghe to Ypres being within range of enemy shells.

During the evening of April 19 the enemy made a raid north of Wieltje and successfully penetrated the Guards front. The raid was quickly repulsed but not without heavy losses. In March and April 1916, the Guards Division lost nearly 750 men, many of whom were killed by shell fire whilst in the trenches.

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.'

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 September 30. 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 October 8,1916:

'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.

On January 10, 1917, whilst billeted at Maurepas, they took over the line just beyond the Peronne -Bapaume road with the right just north of Rancourt and the left on the south-western outskirts of Saillisel. The German positions lay along the western edge of St. Pierre Vaast Wood and were only about 50 yards from the British line. Whilst there was little action in terms of advances by either side, the artillery continued with harassing fire and it is probable that William Martin, who died on January 14, 1917, was fatally wounded during such an attack.

An extract from the War Diary 1st Battalion Scots Guards records:

Maurepas.
10th January, 1917
In the line, very quiet - 2 wounded.
11th January, 1917
In the line, very little shelling. Snow.
12th January, 1917
Quiet day.
13th January,1917
Relieved, marched back to Maurepas.
14th January, 1917
Church Service. Shortage of Lewis Gunners, classes.
At some stage William Martin had been attached to the Guards Machine Gun Corps (Infantry). The part played by the Guards machine gunners during the action between September 15 and 25, 1916, was described as 'a prominent and a gallant one' and during this time they had sustained heavy losses. The War Diary entry for January 14, 1917, is particularly poignant given that Martin, who was a Lewis Gunner, died on that day.

William Martin is buried at Combles Communal Cemetery Extension in grave 11. E. 7. The cemetery is situated just outside the village of Combles in a peaceful setting with the occasional TGV train passing in the distance. It is located on a slight slope with the cross of sacrifice at the far end visible through the centre arch of the cemetery entrance. The headstone next to William Martin's grave bears the appropriate inscription: 'Ils ne sont pas perdus - Ils nous ont devances' ( 'They were not lost - They have gone before').

On March 7, 1917, - The Chief Constable reported to the Police Authority 'Constable William Martin had been killed in action on 14th January, 1917.'

Now the pipes are playing, now the drums are beat,
Now the strong battalions are marching up the street,
But the pipes will not be playing and the bayonets will not shine,
When the regiments I dream of come stumbling down the line.
Lt E. A. Mackintosh, M.C.
(Died 22nd July, 1916.)

Was this page helpful?

Go to top © 2017 Essex Police Memorial Trust

This website uses cookies. By using this website, you are accepting our cookies policy and consenting to cookies being used.

Share with:

Close