Percy Unsworth Battle
Percy Unsworth Battle was born on December 29, 1889, at Orford in Suffolk. When he was 18 years old he became a private serving with the Grenadier Guards for three years. He was discharged on November 10, 1910, and shortly after joined Essex Constabulary as Police Constable 458. He was stationed at Brentwood from April 1911, till December 1913, when he was transferred to Chelmsford. Life had ups and downs for Percy during 1913 because during that year he married Rose Grist but he was also disciplined and fined five shillings by the Chief Constable for failing to make a conference point.
On the declaration of war in August 1914, Percy was recalled to the colours and rejoined his comrades with the 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards at Chelsea Barracks. Another serving Essex Policeman, Constable 522 Herbert James Button, was also recalled to the same Battalion and Constable 177 Stapleton Hollett was recalled to the 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards.
Six Battalions of Guards went to France with the original British Expeditionary Force that had a total strength of 150,000 and crossed the Channel between August 12 and 17, 1914.
The 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards, the 2nd and 3rd Battalions Coldstream Guards and the 1st battalion Irish Guards constituted the 4th (Guards) Brigade under the command of Brigadier-General R Scott-Kerr (Grenadier Guards).
At midday on August 23, 1914, Sir John French's Army was holding the line Binche-Mons-Conde in an attempt to stop the German advance south from Belgium towards Paris. Early in the afternoon that day the 4th (Guards) Brigade, which had been held in reserves, was pushed forward to extend the line north-westward towards Mons.
Under sustained German attack, facing far superior numbers, a retreat was ordered with the 4th (Guards) Brigade forming the infantry rear guard. On reaching Landrecies on August 26 the Brigade went into billets with the 3rd Battalion Coldstream Guards providing the outposts.
The History of The Guards Division records:
'About 7pm. the Germans, who contrived to make their way close up to the Coldstream piquets by answering the challenge in French, attacked with the bayonet and succeeded in the first moments of surprise in capturing the machine gun. But the Coldstream, effectively assisted by the machine-gun section of the 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards, quickly regained control of the situation. The piquets were reinforced, and, although the fighting continued until midnight, the enemy made no progress and withdrew about 1am. after a howitzer of the 60th Battery, RFA., had succeeded in silencing his guns.'
The retreat was resumed the following day August 27, and, for the remaining days of that month The Guards were not called to do any fighting, but the hard and continuous marching in the dust and heat, and the short time available for rest and sleep, severely tested their powers of endurance. They reached Soissons on August 30.
On September 1, the 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards and the 3rd Battalion Coldstream Guards, who had been posted in the open, south of Soucy, to check the enemy's advance, were withdrawn to a line of defence around Rond de la Reine in Villers Cotterets Forest.
'The Germans attacked with a heavy force and about 10.45am. succeeded in entering the wood and attacked the line held by the Grenadiers and the Coldstream Guards. Owing to the density of the trees and the undergrowth the companies of the two battalions were widely extended and the Germans penetrated through the intervals between them. Fierce and confused fighting at close quarters ensued, but the two battalions held to their ground with great pertinacity and were still in their positions when at length the Irish Guards, who had again been heavily attacked, were forced back through the forest. Officers and men of all three battalions behaved with the utmost steadiness and determination, and succeeded in fighting their way back to Villers Cotterets, which they reached about 2pm.'
During the action Brigadier-General Scott-Kerr was severely wounded, the 2nd Battalion Grenadiers lost 4 officers and 160 other ranks. The 4th (Guards) Brigade had checked the advance of a considerably superior force of the enemy and inflicted serious casualties upon him.
The retreat continued, but the 4th (Guards) Brigade were not engaged in action during the following days.
Percy Battle died on September 4, 1914, and, in the absence of involvement in action on that date, it is probable that he died at a casualty dressing station from wounds sustained during the fighting in Villers Cotterets Forest on September 1. He was twenty four years old and just one month earlier he had been patrolling the streets of Chelmsford!
The War Diary of the 2nd Bn. Grenadier Guards records:
Marched from Soucy 4am fighting rear guard action Bn. hotly engaged at Villers Cotterets lost 4 officers missing, loses amongst NCO's and men - 2 wounded, 122 missing. Halted at midnight. Company bivouacked in Betz and 3 Co's at La Vellenueve.
Percy Unsworth Battle is buried in the Guards' Grave, Villers Cotterets Forest with other guardsmen killed in the same action. The Guards' Grave was made originally by the people of Villers Cotterets and is one of the earliest battlefield cemeteries of The Great War. It was put nearly into its present form by the Irish Guards in November 1914. It is a small cemetery located below the road level in the middle of the Foret de Retz and contains the graves of 98 soldiers, 20 of whom are unidentified.
A short distance from the cemetery stands Carrefour de la Reine - a memorial to the Guardsmen who fell in the Foret de Retz in September 1914. It was built at the request and the funding of Lady Cecil to the 98 Guardsmen who were killed, one of whom was her eighteen year old son who is buried in The Guards' Grave.
The inscription on the rear of the Memorial reads:
In honour of the officers and men of the Grenadier, Coldstream and Irish Guards who fell near this spot on 1st September, 1914. This memorial was placed here by the mother of one of them and is especially dedicated to Second Lieutenant George Edward Cecil.
Percy Battle is also commemorated at St Andrew's Church in Marks Tey, Essex. He left behind his widow Rose and their young child.
Inside the church there is a brass plaque, listing the names included on the memorial, inscribed;
In grateful memory of the noble and brave who gave their lives for honour and liberty in The Great War 1914 - 1919.
On March 3, 1915, the Chief Constable reported the death of Percy Battle to the Police Authority (and also the deaths of Herbert Button and William Goodrick) and it was resolved that the matter be referred to the sub-committee on Police Pay and Conditions. On September 1, 1915, it was noted that Battle was a married man - 'but as the War Office Pensions are greater than those which could be paid out of Police Funds no additional pensions can be granted.'
On December 6, 1916, it was determined 'that Mrs. R E Battle be paid £5.18.0 being the pension deductions made from pay whilst her husband was a member of the County Police Force.'
By the time the memorial tablet to those officers who had died in the First World War was unveiled on September 23, 1920, Rose had remarried becoming Mrs. Rossiter.
Tell them O guns, that we have heard their call,
That we have sworn and will not turn aside,
That we will onward till we win or fall,
That we will keep the faith for which they died.
Major John McCrae
(Died Wimereux 1918)